Mars Hill – For this week’s where we worship series, I had the opportunity to attend Mars Hill United Methodist Church in Mars Hill.
Located on South Main Street in Mars Hill, moments from Mars Hill University, Mars Hill United Methodist Church has served Madison County since May 25, 1959, when the church became established. I attended service on December 16.
Mars Hill UMC opened its doors with a vision of reaching local college students at Mars Hill University (formerly Mars Hill College), according to church records. The church began with 16 charter members. Its first service at its current facility was on October 2, 1966. The congregation is part of the Reconciling Ministries Network.
James Thurmand served as the first pastor of Mars Hill UMC until late 1962. Reverend Lisa Hartzog now leads the congregation, leading in this capacity since July of 2018. Hartzog had an unconventional and unique path to becoming a pastor. Prior to her seminary training, Hartzog attended North Carolina State University, becoming a mechanical engineer before fulfilling her call to minister. She served at five other churches prior to taking the helm as the new pastor of Mars Hill UMC, and was assigned to lead the congregation in a permanent role by UMC leadership.
Service began at 11 am as congregants gathered for a time of worship. The church was hosting its annual service for “Lessons and Carols,” a yearly holiday service. The theme of the service proved to be Christmas carols and lessons about the Christmas story, authentically straight from the Bible.
Decorated for the holiday, the sanctuary boasted Christmas décor across the room, making a festive atmosphere. Poinsettias sat on different ends of the stage. Christmas wreaths hung from the rafters while a well-lit Christmas tree sat at the back of the sanctuary, creating an inviting ambiance.
Bells began to ring as service started. The congregation sat as an energetic man welcomed the flock to the special holiday service. He then opened with participatory announcements as worshipers from across the room highlighted information on events scheduled at the church. The Mars Hill UMC Handbell Choir then stepped forward stage left and began to play “We Three Kings.”
Reverend Hartzog followed by inviting the children in attendance to come forward as she communicated a short children’s message as they listened respectfully and intently.
The time came for the “Lighting of the Advent Wreaths” as two college-aged women began to light the advent candles on stage left. The congregation stood in anticipation as they stated a prayer printed in the church bulletin. A parishioner followed with Psalm 96 and the church joined in to say the scripture.
The choir at that point harmoniously echoed “O Little Town of Bethlehem” as the congregation stood to its feet. Service continued as several different narrators read from their Bibles, narrating the Christmas story before each musical response by both the church choir and the handbell choir.
As the narration of the Christmas story began to come to an end, Reverend Hartzog came forward to say a few words and offer a prayer for the congregation. Worshipers followed by singing aloud the Hymn of Celebration before the benediction was stated and service dismissed. A celebratory holiday dinner was then served to those in attendance.
Mars Hill United Methodist Church proved to be a uniquely inviting congregation. With both a traditional and contemporary presentation style, the church offers services to all age groups. The congregation’s and Pastor Hartzog’s enthusiasm for the church and community was obvious. Mars Hill United Methodist Church continues to leave its stamp on the Mars Hill community.