GATLINBURG, Tenn. — Church Drive in Gatlinburg is the home of a century-old church. Webb's Creek United Methodist was founded in 1917. A little over five years ago, it celebrated 100 years of success, faith and community.
"This church used to have the pews full before COVID. And after COVID, we've dwindled down to just a handful of people," said Kathryn Carpenter, one of the church's members.
It's been a roller coaster for this little congregation. They said the temporary closures of their services during the pandemic drove some families to other buildings. Carpenter said that greatly impacted their church body.
Then, came talks of the Methodist split. Churches must decide whether to stay or break away from the denomination.
"Our membership got so low, people that were on the board made a decision that we were going to close our doors," Carpenter said.
However, she and about eight other people didn't want that to happen. They are fighting to keep it open.
Carpenter said they used to send $11,392.00 to the United Methodist Church every 24 months. That's about $5,700 a year, and about $500 a month. But, those costs were getting to be too much for a congregation with only eight members.
Another option for this church is to split off from the United Methodist Church denomination. However, this would stick them with a $25,000 exit fee to keep their assets.
"With the number of people that we have, we need our tithing to go into the repairs of the church, we can't afford to hand thousands of dollars to United Methodist, just to be free of them," Carpenter said.
Another option is to close the doors. Carpenter does not want to see this happen.
"It seems strange to me, for a church that's lasted as long as ours, that we would even have anybody want to close us," she said.
Carpenter said they've had discussions with UMC. Since then, Webb's Creek is not tithing the required amount to be in good standing. They are currently operating their church services, but not as official "affiliates" of the UMC. Instead, they are a "preaching station."
Carpenter hopes they can remain that way. But for how long? She doesn't know.
"My question is, why are we closing tiny little churches that will never be built again? What we have here is going to be gone," Carpenter said. "I don't want to see it gone."
Carpenter mentioned that if Webb's Creek were to split away from the UMC national organization, they would not re-commit to another major denomination. She said they would prefer to be an independent "Christian church."
"We just want to get back to our beliefs, and get back to the Holy Spirit," she said.
If you want to learn more about the Methodist split, WBIR wrote an extensive article earlier this week.