Where we worship

TUNNEL-Every Sunday, residents of the Tunnel community are hearkened to worship by the deep melodic booms of a large black bell perched in the lawn of Tunnel United Methodist Church. It is the same black bell that ushered in Sunday services nearly 100 years ago, but even that does not tell the age of the congregation.

Now in its third physical incarnation, the church celebrated its 120th birthday last year, said church historian Hugh Coffman.

“The first one was built in 1893 and then it burnt in the fire in the early ’20s,” recalled Coffman.

In an old photo, approximately 30 members dressed in Victorian-style clothing pose in front of the small but impressively ornate structure.

The next church was built in 1923 in the same spot-now a grassy area next to the present church. A fellowship hall, which still hosts community events and the church’s monthly community meals, was added soon after, said Coffman.

As the second church began to outgrow itself, plans for a new, larger church were made. The present, two-story structure was dedicated in 1970 with the first service on Easter Sunday.

According to the church website, there was 6 inches of snow on the ground during that first Easter service, but 145 parishioners attended the service.

The bell, which had been situated in the second church’s bell tower, was not the only thing to survive the transition.

Coffman pointed out several stained class windows that were saved from the second church and installed in the current church and its fellowship hall.

Currently the church has around 170 members, said Pastor Richard Thomas, who has overseen the flock at Tunnel and sister church Warren Chapel for nearly nine years.

Thomas proudly listed the variety of outreach opportunities which the church is able to host.

“Upward Basketball is in its tenth year. It’s an outreach during the winter months for children K through sixth grade, We’re also getting ready to do Vacation Bible School the first week of August,” he said.

The church hosts women’s groups, a men’s group, youth activities, and community meals in addition to its traditional worship service Sundays at 9 a.m. and a contemporary service Sundays at 11:15 a.m., said Thomas.

“We have a blend of mostly older families, but there are a few newer faces too…It’s not really stuffy. People will find out your name and make you feel welcome from the moment you step in the door,” he said.

The church still holds to the rural tradition of multiple churches sharing a pastor, said Coffman. At one point, the church was part of a circuit that included five United Methodist churches: Tunnel, Warren Chapel, Bethel, Constitution and Barlow.

“They would have a morning service maybe at Tunnel, Warren Chapel and Bethel. And maybe an evening service at Barlow and Constitution,” explained Coffman.

Now only Tunnel and Warren Chapel remain in the circuit, which Coffman credits for the success of so many small, rural churches.

“That’s why the Methodist church has sort of survived. In rural areas, they were able to work together and share a minister. That’s the way the Methodist community grew in the rural areas,” he said.