When Mark Blanton decided on a second career as a pastor, he didn’t plan on holding church in Grandma’s house.
Let me explain. It’s not exactly Grandma’s house, but it feels like that. Most of the Woodland Community Church members have silver hair. Some of them are on oxygen. Many of the members rely on walkers and wheelchairs to get to the service held in the activities room at Woodland Terrace, an independent, assisted living, and Alzheimer’s facility in Cary.
It began about five years with a church service held once a month on Sunday afternoons.
“I would love to see this happening in other retirement communities,” said Blanton, 59, who lives with his wife in Cary.
My mother-in-law, Jenny Weidle, lived at Woodland Terrace and attended the church regularly. She liked being able to walk down the hall for church.
When Jenny first told me about Woodland Community Church, I couldn’t believe how many children were involved.
As Jenny talked more about her church, I realized the beauty of having the residents ministering to the young people, who are then able to give back with love and hugs.
Lillian Henderson is one of the non-residents who helped start the church. She leads the children’s ministry with 12 participants ranging from pre-schoolers to college. Henderson’s daughter, Rachel, was the first acolyte, with the job of lighting candles.
“It is rare in churches to have so many wise men and women in a faith community,” Henderson said. “Half of our congregation survived World War II and the Great Depression, this enriches the younger generations on so many levels.”
About two years ago, attendance at the monthly service grew to the point that the church could establish a weekly program on Sunday mornings.
The church now has about 60 regular attendees, including several families with children from the community.
One of the unique things about Woodland Community Church is the outreach effort.
“Because of the hospitality of the Woodland Terrace community, and because Pastor Mark is not a full-time pastor, we are able to spend a huge percentage of the donations collected on relational ministries that are near and dear to our community,” said Shelly Cline, a board member and mother to five of the children who attend the church.
Ministries for the church include providing food for the homeless, monthly church service for Alzheimer’s residents, and supporting safe house in Ukraine for teens.
“It is so cool how our little congregation can be connected to real people in our community and around the world,” Cline said.
During Jenny’s declining days in October, we were able to help her continue attending church.
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was one of the songs the congregation sang the day before Jenny died. The words and image of a band of angels coming to carry my mother-in-law home comforted me through the next day as my husband and I cared for her.
The love of the church, especially the children, was evident in the way they reached out to Jenny.
“We are living out the Acts 2 church,” Blanton said. “Watching the connection of kids with older residents is a blessing.”
Blanton earned his master’s of divinity from Duke University in 2005. He planned to work full-time as a Methodist minister. When the opportunity at Woodland Terrace opened up, he knew it was a better fit because he and his wife Jennifer could stay near to their daughter’s family.
During the week, Blanton works for Wilson-Finley Company and is able to balance the needs of the church community through a flex-schedule.
“I'm extremely grateful and excited to be part of God’s work in the world through our little church,” said Blanton.