Ware’s Chapel: a “lighthouse congregation” sees bright future on the horizon

Published 6:00 am Sunday, July 16, 2023

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Nine months after leaving First Methodist Church of Washington, 40 former members are breathing new life into Ware’s Chapel. 

Disappointed and upset that First Methodist Church voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church (UMC) in October, about 120 members left to worship elsewhere. Of that total, one-third of former members joined Ware’s Chapel UMC. After taking time to get to know members of Ware’s Chapel, the remnant members are eager and energized to help the small church grow. 

Jim Billbro, chairman of Ware’s Chapel’s Board of Administration, shared that Ware’s is known by the UMC as a “lighthouse congregation” which means it is a safe and supportive place for people who come from disaffiliated Methodist Churches. These churches have decided to remain faithful to the UMC, according to Sam Hodges with UM News. 

To ensure a successful union between the congregations and secure a presence in Washington, the United Methodist Conference in Raleigh is giving Ware’s Chapel $450,000, according to Billbro who is a former member of First Methodist having attended and served there for 45 years. 

Over several years, that money will cover the cost of improvements to the church parking lot, kitchen, office space and allow the church to hire a choir director and secretary. It will also help pay their new minister for the next two years. On July 9, Cassidy Salter gave her first sermon as senior pastor of Ware’s Chapel. 

Salter previously served at Hebron United Methodist Church in Mebane, North Carolina for two-and-a-half years until the church decided to disaffiliate last month. She left, because she wanted to continue ministering at a church still under the UMC umbrella. 

“What I have seen in the short time I have been here is that those who were members of Ware’s Chapel prior to First disaffiliating were very welcoming right from the get go and they’ve remained that way,” Salter said. “They want to see this church flourish…Those from First who have come here – came here with a renewed energy for ministry and a commitment not just to the UMC which influenced their decision to come here but to being in ministry in the Washington community.” 

The merging of the two congregations has ushered in a feeling of “renewal” and “newness,” Salter described. 

“We’re hoping that with Cassidy here full-time, with her new ideas, that it’s going to start growing things,” Billbro said. 

Mission work, Billbro said, is a strength of Ware’s Chapel that will continue to be a priority as a way to let people know about the church. 

Salter hopes the church can continue finding ways of serving the Washington community. 

“I prefer not to think as much about how many people are in the pews on Sunday as I think about the ways that we can impact the individuals in our community and the more lives that can be impacted by the ministry of God and through the church,” she said. 

It is Salter’s hope that if the public sees congregants from Ware’s Chapel getting involved in community events then it will stir an interest in them to visit the church.  

A new minister and a surplus of 40 new members can be quite the shock to a congregation of about 20 people – which Ware’s Chapel had until recently. Billbro said the Ware’s Chapel congregation embraced and even welcomed the change. New members are now at the helm directing the future at the church in leadership positions while collaborating with Ware’s Chapel congregants on ideas on how to move the church forward. 

“In the last several months we’re all members together,” Billbro said. “We don’t call ourselves ‘us’ and ‘them’ anymore. It’s ‘us.’”