Why Magnolia United Methodist Closed

One of the first things Pastor Tim Jackson did after accepting the challenge of reopening Magnolia Avenue United Methodist Church was research its history to find out what went wrong.

The story he found is a common one.

From 1890 through the 1950s, Magnolia was a thriving neighborhood church. Many members lived close enough to walk to services each week.

“Then in the early ’60s, white flight took place,” Jackson said. “Most of these kids that grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, they moved to West Knoxville or other areas. This church progressively got older.”

A visionary pastor of Magnolia in the early 1970s, the Rev. George Armbrister, tried to shore up the church with a merger to position it as a multicultural church to match the neighborhood.  

The members of the church declined the idea.

Fifteen years down the line in the late 1980s. Magnolia “was in freefall,” Jackson said. “There were about 150 people still coming consistently, but most of them were 60 and over.”

The congregation was offered four alternative paths forward. The first was to close the church.

“We can't afford to maintain the building,” Jackson said of the reasoning behind that option. “We can't afford pastoral salaries. We can't afford ministry salaries. We can't afford ministry. Close the doors and sell the property and donate it away.”

The No. 2 option was to merge another church into the building to bring in more resources. 

The third option was to invest in the community, which was multicultural at that point.

The fourth option was to continue as they were. That’s what the members of Magnolia decided to do. 

“The church got old and died,” Jackson said.

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