Twenty years ago this week a new service of worship was begun in this church. First Place, a service of contemporary praise music and worship opened to the public on March 21, 1999 after six weeks of trial runs. The service was years in planning and convincing this congregation to undertake it. Steve Martin, one of the associate pastors, was chosen to lead and Paul Jones, who is now the worship leader at Cokesbury UMC, directed the music. Steve and the many lay helpers had a limited budget so they bought most of the audio and video equipment off of a new website called Ebay. This wasn’t the first contemporary service at a local UMC. Kern and Concord UMCs already had theirs up and running and First Maryville, Cokesbury, and Broadway UMCs soon followed.
Since then the service has had many pastors including Ken Birt, Bill Kilday, Crystal Smith, Troy Forrester, and Rachel Witt. Music Directors soon assumed the role of worship leader and included Edward Pierce, Jenny Rogers, and Charles Wellborn. Currently, Chris Black preaches most Sundays and Jeff Kile is in charge of music and AV.
In order to remain contemporary it has undergone many changes in look and design. We stopped referring to it as First Place a few years ago. We’ve added screens, enlarged the stage, installed new sound and lights, and changed the seating arrangement multiple times. But through all of the adjustments it has remained a place that has provided spiritual nourishment, encouragement, a relaxed atmosphere, and a sincere effort to praise and honor God Almighty each and every week.