Crum: Ellwood all about transforming people’s lives

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 6, 2003

Gary Lamar Crum, senior pastor and overseer of Ellwood Community Church, is proud that he is a &uot;bivocational&uot; minister and believes it vastly enhances his effectiveness.

Crum is firm in his belief that the purpose of the church is to enable people to grow and to become more godly in Christ in the fellowship of the church, and to transform people’s lives.

If lives are not transformed, he contends, then the church is not fulfilling its mission.

Crum has seem many lives transformed in his nearly 10 years of ministry at what is now Ellwood Community Church &045; addicts restored to sobriety, broken marriages shored up and saved, lost and lonely people given new purpose in life.

A mural that decorated one side of the church for a number of years proudly proclaimed that all were welcome, including &uot;drunks and sinners.&uot; That mural has since been painted over. Another is planned in its place, according to one officer of the church.

In a recent service Crum read a letter from a former member who had moved away with her family, which spoke of how much Ellwood meant to her and her family during a recent period of extreme stress.

The church began as a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal South in 1851, the Southern branch of Methodism which split off before the Civil War. Later it became affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.

Then in 1994 Crum was ordained pastor under the auspices of the Association of Independent Community Churches, a group of several hundred congregations which is about 100 years old. Shortly after that the congregation decided to disaffiliate from the AME Church and changed its name to Ellwood Community Church.

At the time there was resistance from the AME Zion area bishop and governing body. But Crum, backed by the great majority of the congregation, prevailed and the decision stood.

In addition to the Association of Independent Community Churches, Ellwood is also affiliated with the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship. Through that connection Crum, who is senior pastor, also has the title of overseer of the Black Belt District of that body.

Crum became pastor in 1994 at age 26, following completion of his college studies at Alabama State in Montgomery. At that time the church consisted of about 40 members, including members of his own family.

Under his leadership the church more than doubled in membership in the next five years.

Crum, however, came to the conclusion in the late ’90s that the church had no future in Tyler with its tiny building of 1,800-square-feet, and its declining population. He decided that if the church was to grow, much less survive, it would have to move.

When Crum first brought up the matter with the congregation after he became pastor, the idea of a move, not surprisingly, was rejected.

Crum says he was discouraged, but not defeated, and he continued in pray about the matter.

He began to think about the abandoned former grocery store on Selma Avenue that he drove by frequently. He had a deepening conviction that God intended there to be a church in that building on that spot. The newly renamed Ellwood Community Church in Tyler was outgrowing its space.

In Crum’s words, an amazing succession of events followed to make that move possible.

He found out who the out-of-state owner was, engaged in discussions and got the reply: Make an offer.

Crum made what he describes as a &uot;ridiculously low&uot; offer to continue a lease that had been abandoned by the former occupant. The offer was accepted. By that time, he had convinced the congregation to make the move.

The first service in the church’s new location was held on the first Sunday in June 1999. The newly renovated 17,000-square-foot structure sits on three acres of land, with ample parking space for the hundreds who would come.

Crum believes the new structure in the new location has been a highly significant factor in the church’s rapid growth since the move.

The Tyler building is currently used by New Life Missionary Baptist Church rent free.

According to Crum, approximately 90 percent of the current membership of about 1,500 comes from Selma, though he calls Ellwood a regional church inasmuch as there are attendees who come from as far away as Birmingham, Montgomery and Mississippi.

Crum estimates that the median age of the membership is 35-40 and that 60 percent are singles, predominantly female. Crum attributes the fact that there is also a significant number of African-American males, who are traditionally less likely to be churchgoers than the women, to the church’s strong men’s ministry.

The church is predominantly African-American, but Crum hopes and believes there will be a growing number of whites because &uot;that’s how heaven is going to look.&uot;

Crum estimates that 25 percent of his 1,500-member flock are 12 and under, and 10 percent between the ages of 13-19.

Since Crum arrived a number of programs have been added, what students of congregations would call &uot;points of entry.&uot; There are programs for men, women, singles, children, youth, various choirs, and outreach ministries, including &uot;The Light&uot; &045; a &uot;Christian nightclub&uot; just across the river in Selmont that provides a &uot;wholesome&uot; environment and entertainment for the whole family. There is no smoking and no alcohol allowed. According to Crum, &uot;The Light&uot; was opened in an attempt to attract a series of younger Christian entertainers on the way up.

Crum insists that he is entirely directed by God in his leadership of the congregation. He says that he does not consider himself as a great

preacher, but rather as &uot;a plain old ordinary guy who tries to maintain a heavenly connection.&uot;