By J.D. Moor
Dunwoody Baptist Church and Dunwoody United Methodist Church stand together in the center of their north DeKalb city.
Neighbors on opposite sides of Mount Vernon Road, they are hardly mirror images of one another. Instead, they’re more like mismatched bookends with one core value kept upright between them: nurturing the community through spirited cooperation.
“We’re here to minister to the community, whether you’re a member of the church or not,” Dunwoody Baptist Senior Pastor Mack Hannah said.
Both churches hold contemporary and traditional Sunday services. The Methodist congregation is more than 100 years old and claims some 4,600 members. The Baptist congregation’s 1,500 members will celebrate their church’s 50th anniversary in March.
“I hope nothing really distinguishes us from other churches. I hope that we’re all involved with each other,” Dunwoody United Methodist Senior Pastor Wiley Stephens said.
Dunwoody Baptist has been part of Chip Thompson’s life since 1979.
“We have incredible leaders that continually prompt us to trust God and make a difference in the community,” Thompson said. “As our pastor says so appropriately, ‘“We are just beggars trying to show other beggars where we found some bread.’”
Providing food to the needy through the Community Assistance Center is just one of the churches’ shared activities. They also participate in Perimeter Adult Learning and Services, host Scout troops, and civic and cultural events, such as concerts or public meetings.
Plus, the two pastors meet over breakfast periodically to compare notes. “We believe in the same basic faith. The core beliefs are the same,” Stephens said.
A sampling of the two churches’ individual highlights includes Dunwoody Methodist’s long-term plans to build a new addition to its youth ministry, a new covered parking area, and to assemble a new organ, using vintage pipe materials. Later this year, the church hopes to launch a community initiative with six other churches that will help local senior citizens live independently in their own homes by providing transportation services and other programs.
“Asking us what is special about DUMC would be like asking a goldfish what is special about water,” member Sid Linton said.
Dunwoody Baptist’s extended family includes the 2,000 people who belong to its state-of-the-art fitness center, plus those who participate on athletic teams through its sports center and the many who take music, dance and voice lessons at its Dunwoody School for the Arts.
They are open to the general public, as is a robust ESOL program. Church members, such as Jack Hamilton, also have access to a Men’s Fraternity, which he proudly said has changed his life.
“We are learning how to be better men at home and better men in our workplace,” Hamilton said. “It has opened my eyes and been very beneficial with my relationship to my wife, my daughters, my sons.”
The pastors agree that their biggest challenge is pacing themselves.
“We want to continue to be relevant in this community while things are ever changing,” Hannah said. “The gospel doesn’t change, so it’s a wonderful challenge.”
Hannah is into his 10th year as senior pastor. “I plan to be here as long as God wants me to,” he said.
In 2015, Stephens will face mandatory retirement, according to Methodist rules. “It will leave a big hole in our community when he goes. He’s such a great man,” Hannah said.
Stephens, who lives in Sandy Springs, says that after retirement, he doesn’t plan on going far. “I’ll always be in ministry,” he said, “but just as a volunteer.”