Why Cullowhee UMC is known as the ‘firewood church’

Chainsaws, wood splitters and wheelbarrows can be powerful tools to proclaim God’s love.

The proof was on display on a recent Saturday morning at Cullowhee UMC, where volunteers split firewood and delivered it by the truck load to the homes of local seniors.

Now in its 13th year, the ministry responds to a vital community need — and has also become an unexpected source of growth for the congregation, says Rev. Mitch Boughman, the church’s senior pastor.

In fact, it was how Mitch first got involved as a college student.

“It’s how many people end up making their way into this room right here,” Mitch said during an interview in the church sanctuary.

Matt Garfield, the Foundation’s director of communications, visited in early February to see the ministry in action and tag along on a delivery. Cullowhee UMC invests with the Foundation to generate funds for its preschool, cemetery and special projects.

Where does all the wood come from?

Tree removal companies in the area routinely drop off hardwood logs in the church yard. When the grounds crew at Western Carolina University takes down a hardwood tree due to age or disease, the remnants often wind up at Cullowhee UMC.

The church partners with the Jackson County Council on Aging to identify people in need. Recipients must be disabled, low income or at least 60 years old.

While the majority of U.S. households are heated by electricity (38.7 percent) or utility gas (48.1 percent), 1.9 percent rely on wood for heat, according to Census bureau findings. That includes many in Jackson County, where nearly one in five residents live below the federal poverty line.

A proud tradition

The ministry dates back to 2010 when the United Methodist Church launched an initiative called Rethink Church. One goal was to encourage the local church to hold an “Impact Day” to take the congregation out of the building for good works in the community. Some 300 volunteers turned out for the first Impact Day at Cullowhee UMC.

More than a decade later, the tradition lives on. Church members are joined by folks from community organizations like Rotary, WCU clubs and sports teams, fraternities, sororities and other churches in the area.

Among those volunteering in the early years was a Western Carolina student named Mitch Boughman. He got involved through the Wesley Foundation, a WCU campus ministry based at the church.

“Being the hands and feet of Christ – that’s always been Cullowhee UMC’s claim to fame,” Mitch said. “It was what got me started here. To be back now, as the pastor, is really surreal.”

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