West Virginia Congregation Reaches Out to Community
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg
Members of Corley United Methodist Church, Belington, grow in faith as they strengthen neighborhood ministries.
When COVID-19 hit two years ago, leaders at Corley United Methodist Church acted quickly by offering online worship opportunities and moving in-person gatherings to an outside pavilion. With soccer chairs and picnic blankets in hand, families came to worship.
“Our numbers went up, and it created a new energy,” said Jon Fox, a licensed local pastor, who began his first appointment just before the pandemic started. Corley UMC, a seventy-member congregation in Belington, West Virginia, has an average age of 50.
During the early days of COVID-19, Corley UMC brought in three new members and had one baptism and one reaffirmation of faith. Fox attributed the increase to his parishioners’ “growing desire to grow closer to Jesus Christ and to serve him.”
Corley UMC was one of five United Methodist congregations that received the One Matters Award from Discipleship Ministries in 2021. The award recognizes churches that increase the numbers of baptisms and professions of faith, with a renewed focus on discipleship.
“We are a rural congregation, traditional in our theology, as well as our worship style,” Fox said. Ongoing programs include Sunday morning worship, followed by church school for various ages. Bible studies are offered on Sunday and Wednesday evenings.
“Our numbers went up, and it created a new energy.”
Collaboration with other faith groups is vital to the congregation. “We have strengthened our partnership with our local parish,” Fox said. Corley and Stringtown United Methodist Church, also in Belington, have a backpack project that helps feed local schoolchildren in Barbour County. The congregation also participates in a Christmas shoebox ministry for children.
“We have done combined services for Christmas and worked together to bring a free day camp to families in our community,” the pastor said. “We have done other youth activities and a gospel/hymn sing. We also participate in our West Virginian Annual Conference outreach ministries like Heart & Hand House in Philippi and Burlington United Methodist Family Services.” An emergency-assistance fund is available to anyone in the community and beyond.
Serving a three-point charge, Fox often must rush from the Corley service to his other Belington appointments: Sugar Creek and Stringtown United Methodist churches. “It’s sometimes hard as the pastor to have time to engage with new people during the service,” he admitted. “I have to leave immediately to get to my next service. I am blessed to have a congregation who makes sure new folks are welcomed with open arms.”
Fox is enrolled in the Course of Study through the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry. Along with serving three congregations, he works full time in advertising sales for a local newspaper company.
Sharing his call to ministry, Fox said he grew up in a United Methodist congregation but drifted away from the church as he grew into adulthood.
“I still believed in God,” he said, “but I had no relationship with him. God led me back to church, and he started working on me. God helped me to discover there was more out there. He showed me I had a purpose.
“Eventually, I had my own Aldersgate moment, where I had that strange warming of the heart as John Wesley described. My life was being transformed. I started getting more involved in church, and I loved it.”
Fox enrolled in lay servant classes. “God started helping me discover the call he was putting on my life,” Fox recalled. “After lay speaking in local churches, I discovered God wanted me to do more. And now here I am – a licensed local pastor.”
Above all, Fox wants to tell others about the love of Jesus Christ.
“I believe it is up to all of us to carry out the Great Commission,” he said. “I am blessed to have congregations who inspire me. They are very supportive and offer me grace. They are willing to join me and help when the Lord puts ideas on my heart.
“We continue to strengthen our relationship with our local parish,” Fox added. “We are doing the Dayspring Day Camp again this year. It is wonderful to see my fellow United Methodist pastors and our churches join together and work to bring the love of Jesus Christ to our community.”