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April 14, 2014

Lynelle Wilbanks reached many milestones at FUMC

CULLMAN — Lynelle Jordan Wilbanks was christened in the sanctuary at First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in Cullman, in 1947, at the age of four months. It was the first of many milestones she would celebrate in the church over the coming years.

Lynelle is part of a five-generation family tradition at FUMC. Both sets of her grandparents were members there. Her grandfather, William Neal, and his wife, Venora, helped to build the first church in this location in 1924. In fact, Mr. Neal was at the railroad depot helping to unload logs for the new building when he was in an accident that broke his leg.

Lynelle’s other grandparents, W.A. Jordan, and his wife, Alice, were married at First United Methodist Church in the late 1930s.

Her parents, Roy and Nelle Jordan, lived in the Spring Hill community and traveled the eight miles into town to attend FUMC. They, too, were married there on June 18, 1936. Roy owned three cotton gins and two sawmills. Later he owned commercial egg houses. A serious inventor, Roy held patents for a child safety seat to help restrain a child from wondering around in the car, and a chicken escalator, a device which prevented the baby chickens from getting their legs caught in the wires of the cage.

Roy was on the board of stewards and Nelle served as organist for the congregation, as well as being a member of the United Methodist Women (UMW) and a Sunday school teacher.

The sign in front of the church is dedicated to Wayne Shugarts, and Roy and Alice Jordan for their years of service to FUMC.

By the time Lynelle was 11 or 12, she was baptized in the main sanctuary. High school found her helping with the acolytes, and playing piano.

She and her husband, Don, were married in the same sanctuary one cold, icy winter’s day. It started out like a disaster when she and her mother didn’t realize that the bridesmaids’ corsages were in a box on top of the trunk of their car. Before they knew it, the lovely corsages were strewn along Highway 278. Fortunately, they were near their home when it happened and could jump out and save them before they were damaged.

Later, while standing at the alter beside her husband during the ceremony, Lynelle felt Don’s knees shaking. “I was thinking that I might have to hold him up,” she laughed.

Through the years, Lynelle and Don raised a family in the church where their families attended. Don’s parents, Pat and Mildred Wilbanks, joined FUMC in 1968. Pat was a painter by trade and always donated his skills to the church when there was painting to be done.

Don served as Sunday school superintendant, an usher, and also taught Sunday school.

Lynelle followed her mother as pianist, Sunday school teacher, acolyte coordinator, children’s coordinator, Bible school director, altar-guild member (where she continues to serve as chairperson) and as worship team chairperson. She was also on the Heritage Committee, and served as special projects chairperson when that group was heavily involved in making the beautiful needlepoint kneeling cushions for the chancel; the meditative prayer garden, and the prayer chapel renovation. She was on the committee which was responsible for the new sign, the Family Life Center dedication and time capsule, the senior adult ministries coordinator and as UMW president. She says she has enjoyed every minute of it.  

The Wilbanks have two children, Michael, who lives in Hartselle with his wife, Cory, and their daughters, Meg, 11, and Kate, 7. Donna, also in Hartselle, married Kyle Chamblee in July 2005, standing in the same spot where Donna’s parents and grandparents had taken their vows. The Chamblees have two children, Peyton, 6, and Cole, 3, who are also members of the First United Methodist Church. Cole was baptized in the new contempory service due to the tornado damage, but otherwise, the whole family was baptized in the same sanctuary where William and Venora Neal were baptized.  

For almost a century, the ancestors of Lynelle Jordan Wilbanks have been an integral part of the First United Methodist Church of Cullman. Her family still sits in the south side balcony pew where her family sat in her teenage years.

Family ties and church ties go hand-in-hand in the South. Many times these bonds, both between family and church, have kept the church going, and vice-versa. Heritage makes for dedicated commitments, walking through halls where grandparents and great-grandparents once trod offers a sense of duty, pride and reverence for what those who have gone before stood for and believed in so strongly.

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