Mariah Simmons is not sure how long she has been a member of M.L. Harris United Methodist Church in Columbus, but she says it has been a long time.
Simmons, who turned 100 on Oct. 12, said she started attending the church as a child.
On the other hand, the Rev. Donald Mathis has only been coming to the church on Old Cusseta Road since early June when he took over as senior pastor.
Sunday, Simmons and Mathis will be honored at a 10 a.m. service as the church celebrates its 145th anniversary, an affair the public is invited to attend.
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M.L. Harris began in 1872 with a group of people who would hold services under a grape arbor. Members did not have a building to call their own until 1882. The building that is home to the sanctuary now was built in 1977.
“She is a great woman of faith, a woman of wisdom,” Mathis said of Simmons. “She is a woman of integrity who stands for what is right. She is a great role model for today’s youth.”
Simmons has a great love for the church. Her faith has always been strong.
“I praise the Lord day in and day out, night in and night out,” she said.
Mathis, 49, a married father of three grown children, came to M.L. Harris from Canaan Community United Methodist Church in Savannah, Ga.
The native of Tifton, Ga., has worked at several churches including seven years at Brannen Chapel United Methodist Church in Statesboro, Ga.
Though he grew up in the church and felt the calling to pastor at an early age, he toiled at other jobs.
He worked as a manager at McDonald’s and Burger King.
“Not much difference,” he said, smiling.
He also worked in an aluminum plant and as an administrative assistant in a high school.
“One day my sister, Angela, came to me and said, ‘Why are you not doing what God has called you to do?’ and I listened,” Mathis said.
Mathis, who has an associate degree in sociology from South Georgia State College, studied at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Every Monday and Tuesday he drives to Savannah for classes as he works to finish a degree in social work at Savannah State University.
One of 11 children, he was raised by his mother, a custodian, after his parents separated and his father left for New York.
“I have always had a passion for being a pastor,” he said. “One of greatest joys is seeing people grow in their walk with God. I like to develop relationships.”
M.L. Harris has 162 members.
“It is an older congregation but we do have some youth. My vision is to see us be a mission-minded church. We need to have more hands out in the community. We need to be more visible to grow. We must also become more technology savvy,” he said
He said the church’s evangelism team has been strengthened and has been canvassing neighborhoods.
“It is always a challenge to get people to get out of their comfort zone and accept new ideas,” he said. “This congregation seems to have embraced what we are doing.”