Been to Flora-Bama Lately?

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

The Flora-Bama. Most people within 300 miles of Pensacola, Florida have heard that name. It is a famous bar located on the Gulf of Mexico and sits right on the Alabama Florida line. I think the actual state line runs through the middle of the bar.

I doubt that any Methodists have ever been there, but there are a lot of people who have visited it. I have heard of its reputation for years and years. A lot of people who have been there might not remember much about the experience.

A couple of young men had a great vision for bringing ministry to one of the most recognizable drinking holes along the Gulf coast. Jeremy Mount and Darren McClellan were in seminary together and dreamed of taking the gospel of Christ to places that really need it.

Darren met with Pat McClellan and Joe Gilchrist who were owners of the Flora-Bama, and they fully supported the idea. Shortly after Jeremy transitioned out of the active duty Army he received full support from the majority owner John McInnis. It started out as an outreach service of Perdido Bay UMC and has grown into a missional community/church. Jeremy is the lead pastor for this Church.

This ministry will be celebrating two years this 4th of July. Some people had questioned whether or not you ought to have a church service in a bar. But that is actually where there are a lot of people who need to hear the good news. Jeremy focused his attention on the fact that Jesus said He didn’t come to call the healthy but the sick to repentance. He came to save sinners.

While a lot of traditional churches don’t look with great favor on such a ministry, we Methodists ought to remember our heritage. John Wesley was a preacher in the Church of England. He saw that the greatest need for the gospel was outside the walls of the church. He started going to the open fields, coal mines, and taverns presenting the Christian witness. The Methodist Church came out of a mindset that we ought to take the gospel of Christ to the places that really need it.

I was recently preaching in Memphis, Birmingham, and Atlanta and had people ask me about the Flora-Bama. It is hard to describe the look on peoples’ faces when you put the Flora-Bama and ministry in the same sentence! I’m a big cheerleader for Jeremy and this ministry.

The ministry is growing. They have had to expand outside of the bar to the porch, to a tent, and to the beach. They had 2,400 people on Easter Sunday morning! The worship service is at 11:00, but you better get there by 10:00 if you expect to get fairly close to the band and the preacher.

The band – it is excellent. It is composed of some of the best musicians along the coast whose lives are being transformed. They have put together their own songbook composed of great old hymns and contemporary music. They call it “The Honky-tonk Hymnal.” A lot of people like the idea that they don’t take an offering – they just have some big tackle boxes at all of the exits and people place an offering in the tackle boxes.

When people say the Gulf coast is recovering, they generally think about tourism and the economy. I would like to think about the ministry at Flora-Bama. It is recovery in the best sense of the word. It is revival, redemption, rejoicing, realignment of priorities, renewal, etc.

I am going to preach there soon. I am really looking forward to it. I hope I don’t retard the growth in one Sunday! One of the attendees there said that what God is doing is so great that I couldn’t mess it up! When the Pharisees brought Peter and John before the Council for their new way of doing ministry, a respected Pharisee, Gamaliel, told them that if it was of man, it would be overthrown, but if it was of God, nothing could stop it. (Acts 5:33-39)

When you go to the Gulf coast, go to the Flora-Bama – on Sunday morning at 11:00. It will probably be the highlight of your trip!

Where is God calling you and me to take the Good News?

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