The last church my Dad served fulltime before his mandatory retirement at age 70 was First United Methodist Church Panama City, Florida. I preached there for the Homecoming worship service on June 30, 2013.
It was extra special because my grandfather, John Wesley Mathison was Pastor there in 1911. I regret that he died before I had the opportunity to know him. It was an awesome thing to stand in the pulpit where my Dad and my Granddad had preached!
I learned some life lessons about my grandfather.
1. He preached his first sermon at the First Methodist Church South in Panama City on October 5, 1911. The church was in the process of relocating to its present location. The building wasn’t finished. The newspaper reported that when he arrived, the next day he put together a crew of people to finish the new building. He obviously had some building skills so he found several other people who were willing to help. They didn’t form a committee – he went to work immediately!
2. He knew how to organize people and inspire them to complete a building. The newspaper article said the community was “indebted for the rapid construction of the work on the building since he personally took hold of the work.” I didn’t know anybody in our family had such building skills. Those building skills certainly were not passed down to his grandsons! The article clearly stated that people had been working without receiving or expecting to receive any pay.
3. I learned that Granddad worked with people of all denominations. He was a Methodist, but his mission was much bigger than just the Methodist church. The 1912 paper said, “The success of the church work is due to the cooperation of all denominations. If there ever was a place where you didn’t find the denomination ties, its Panama City. This is evidence of good common sense and old time religion. Prejudice has neither.” 101 years later, 2013, I think there is a greater need for all of us as denominations to work together. Denominations need to stop competing and start cooperating more. We need to join hands and amazing things can be accomplished.
My Dad followed the footsteps of his Dad in reaching out to churches of all denominations. My Dad preached in a church of most every denomination in Panama City. He was known as “Pope of the Panhandle.”
4. I learned that one of my Granddad’s priorities for the new church building was to install an excellent bell. The 1912 edition of the paper goes to great extent to describe this bell. It was a 13 inch steel alloy church bell. It was described as one of the best the factory makes. It had a deep mellow tone. People in the community commented about how they loved to hear the bell ring. The paper said that even people from neighboring towns could hear the splendid bell.
Bells aren’t put in most churches today. How do people today know that it is time to attend a church function? The modern bell might be word of mouth, social media, or some form of technology.
The last part of the article was about the 77 new members, Sunday School growth, and the fact that there is no indebtedness on the church. It was ready to be dedicated.
My granddad didn’t just build a church building, he built a real church. Church buildings sometimes burn or are torn down or have to be relocated. The real church is the people who follow the teachings of Christ. There will be only one relocation – heaven!
I wish I could have known my Granddad. I did learn some things that give me new encouragement to do ministry 101 years later!