It didn’t take long for newly appointed pastor the Rev. Todd Chancey to feel at home in the Springbrook neighborhood surrounding his church, Alcoa First United Methodist.
Looking out from the front lawn he saw his mission field — including the four schools almost within throwing distance. Alcoa’s elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools all nestled right there along Springbrook Park.
Chancey and his wife, Liz, were appointed to begin their service here on July 1. They, along with the congregation, began to work on their first priority.
“Since I have been here, the church has had a real desire to get out in the community and be good neighbors,” Chancey said. “Our focus is to be good neighbors.”
One way to do that, he said, is to hold community events outside of the church walls. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, that is what will happen with the Alcoa First UMC Block Party, slated to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the pavilion next to Springbrook Pool.
Chancey and his staff, including youth leader Jim Gass and children’s director Brooke Strayn, will feed 500 people that night. On the menu is fried chicken and all the fixings.
In addition, Alcoa First UMC will hand out school supply kits to 300 children. This is the church’s first such event.
The pastor and his staff also said they would be going door to door in the previous week to get the word out. They have identified 600 homes that surround them.
“We want to tell our neighbors we are part of the community and want to reach out any way we can,” the pastor said.
The week actually kicks off with another outreach project. On Monday, the church will provide breakfast to teachers and staff at both Alcoa Elementary and Alcoa Middle.
“Our mission outreach is for people who know of us but haven’t been inside our church home,” Strayn said. “We want to invite them and their children into our youth and kids’ ministries.”
back in the swing
This time of year, when families are getting back to school, seems like the perfect opportunity to reach out, Chancey said.
Gass said summer typically is a slow time for youth programs, but expects his Alcoa 1st Youth to pick back up. In some weeks there are 100 middle and high school students attending this Wednesday night program. It starts back on Aug. 28.
They are grateful to businesses like Chick-fil-A, Lambert’s and Walmart. The major funding for the block party came from the Mr. P Locker Foundation, so named for a former teacher in Alcoa, Dennis Pershing.
The Chanceys came to Alcoa First UMC after serving for seven years at Kingston United Methodist Church in Kingston, Tennessee. Before that, they were at Apison UMC near Chattanooga.
They are also the authors of a book that has just been released, “God in the Midst of Thorns: A Journey of Faith, Hope, Strength and Justice.” The book tells the story of how Liz came in contact with a pesticide that left her lungs and vocal cords permanently damaged. The accident happened in 1999.
Due to the medical and legal issues, they wrote under the pen names Christopher and Hilda Talley. Liz said she started the book more than 15 years ago, but struggled to put all of the pieces together. That’s when she asked her husband to also include his story.
“We do life together,” she said. “We have been married for almost 38 years. We have journeyed this story together. Nothing seemed right at first. When he started telling his story, it felt right.”
This couple has known each other since they were 9 and 10, and married as teenagers.
Liz was even flown to New York City recently where she pitched her book to some movie producers. She is hopeful. Their story also gained national attention when Liz was a guest on the “Dr. Oz” show a few years ago.
They now feel led by God to immerse themselves in this community and become part of it.
“Alcoa is an amazing city,” the pastor said. “It really is. I would have never known that had I not had this opportunity. It is a jewel in East Tennessee.”
Alcoa First UMC will reach a special milestone next year, its 100th anniversary. In the meantime, Chancey and his staff said they will continue to forge relationships.
“We are not visible the way some churches are,” this pastor said. “We are not on a main thoroughfare. The swimming pool, the park and the schools bring people into our community. By us getting out of our sanctuary and getting into the community, we can be more visible.”