The Walk was a 2015-2018 campaign to raise the funds for a two-phased construction project that moved us toward our vision to be known as a center for feeding people spiritually and physically in our community.
In January 2012, St. John’s began the process of studying our campus and the needs of our campus for the next several years. St. John’s identified two pressing areas of need to tackle in building and improving our campus: renovating the gym to add much needed heating and air conditioning, new floors, lighting, audiovisual capabilities and added storage. The second phase of the project added a Narthex to the sanctuary, refurbished the sanctuary and completed the covered sidewalk to the sanctuary.
Beginning October 4, 2015, St. John’s UMC kicked off The Walk, the capital campaign to raise $1.5 million to fund the two-phased project. We broke ground for the Family Life Center, a renovation and expansion of our gym building, on November 15, 2015. Construction was complete in August 2016, just before flooding impacted many people in Baton Rouge and surrounding communities. Our Family Life Center was able to be a place of refuge, Operation Noah’s Ark, providing emergency shelter and food for survivors and later as a place for second responders to stay while they helped with the immediate aftermath of gutting flooded homes. Groups who stayed included Team Rubicon, IsraAID, Team Canada, AmericCorps and FEMA Corps.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Narthex took place on September 18, 2016. Construction began shortly thereafter, and our family of faith worshiped together in the renovated FLC during the months-long construction process. A consecration service for the new Narthex, renovated sanctuary, covered walkway and Burch Bell Tower and Thayer Bell took place May 20, 2017. Worship services resumed in the sanctuary on May 21, 2017.
Our walk together as a family of faith continues even as the construction of our two phases has been completed!
The Burch Bell Tower
The Burch Bell Tower has been named in recognition of Martha and Tom Burch, founding members of St. John’s United Methodist Church. It serves as a permanent memorial to Martha for the 55 years of service and support that she gave to the church.
The Burches, both natives of Fulton, Mississippi and high school classmates, moved to Baton Rouge in 1960, where Tom started work for LSU with the LA Cooperative Extension Service. Martha, an elementary school librarian, began a career that would last over 25 years. The Burches also raised three sons in Baton Rouge: Larry, Murray, and Edward. In 1961, the Burches attended the very first service of St. John’s, and Martha joined the church at that service with Tom joining the second Sunday.
Throughout the years, the Burches continuously supported the church with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Tom served as chairman of every committee at the church, attended UMM, and was the 1000 Club Representative for 10-12 years. Martha was a member of United Methodist Women, serving in all leadership positions including president for 5 years; she was active from the group’s inception until she was no longer able to attend due to health concerns. Martha was also a reliable storyteller at the St. John’s Children’s Center, using her librarian skills to read stories and entertain the children with props. In addition, Tom and Martha contributed as youth leaders for three years.
Both of the Burches served as committed members and supporters of the St. John’s choir and music program. Martha was the only person to be a continuous member of the choir from its very beginning until her death, and Tom continues his active choir membership.
The Burches will leave a legacy by having contributed to what they believe are the greatest accomplishments of St. John’s United Methodist Church:
• Growth from a simple vision into a vibrant church community
• A warm, friendly, and always welcoming environment
• Outreach efforts into the surrounding community
• International mission support
The Burch Bell Tower at St. John’s United Methodist Church will stand as a constant reminder of what the support and love of dedicated members can do for a church, and the Burch family serves as a wonderful role model for all.
May 20, 2017
History of The Bay Hills Methodist Church, The Bell and The People
by Molly Thayer and Randy Thayer
My grandfather, Woodrow L. Thayer, was a funny man. His sense of humor is the main thing I remember about him from my childhood. I never considered him to be a sentimental man, but the story of this bell tells me that he was.
When he was a child, Bunk Paw (he lived in Bunkie, Louisiana so that was our nickname for him) attended Bay Hills Methodist Church. The church was organized in the 1890’s and built in the early 1900’s. The bell was manufactured circa 1894 by The C.S. Bell Co. in Hillsboro, Ohio and is made of a steel alloy weighing approximately 330 pounds. With an 80” circumference and 26” diameter bell opening, it is pitched to create a very mellow tone.
After the church closed in 1958 and the building was sold in 1961, Bunk Paw salvaged the bell and housed it on his nearby farm. We don’t know what his intentions for the bell were, but we do know that he kept it and protected it for the rest of his life (1915-1991). Bunk Paw would be so proud that the bell he loved as a child has found a home in his son’s church.
My father Randy, my Aunt Sheryl, and my Uncle Tommy are all very sentimental traditionalists and this is why this bell has made its way here. In 1961, the same year Bay Hills Methodist Church was sold and my grandfather salvaged the bell, St. John’s Methodist Church was formed. The old bell of Bay Hills was meant to be the new bell of St. John’s.
On behalf of the Thayer family, we dedicate this bell in loving memory of Woodrow Louis Thayer and all the families of the Bay Hills Methodist Church community. Traditions are the anchors of life. This bell is a piece of Bay Hills Methodist Church history-rich in tradition from that lifetime. With its first ringing today, we pray for a new lifetime of traditions and memories for the St. John’s church community now and for generations to come.
Randy W. ThayerSon of Woodrow L. Thayer
St John’s Member since 1967 Bell Historian
Molly Thayer Daughter of Randy W. Thayer
Granddaughter of Woodrow L. Thayer
Bay Hills Methodist Church
Avoyelles Parish, LA
The Bay Hills Church was located in the Bay Hills community on La. Highway 115 about five miles from Bunkie, between Bunkie and Marksville. It was organized as the Bay Hills Methodist Episcopal Church in 1895.
The earliest known record pertaining to church activities was a printed notice dated October 31, 1895 titled “A Union Sunday School Basket Picnic” given under the auspices of the Bay Hills and Bayou Claire M.E. Sunday schools at Bay Hills.
The church building was built in the early 1900’s. Services continued to be held there until the church was closed in 1955 due to declining membership.
The church building remained unoccupied until April 28, 1961, when it was sold to the Bayou Rouge Baptist Church in Evergreen, LA, for use as a mission. The property was later sold to an individual who removed the steeple and converted it to a residence; it remains a residence at this time.
Excerpts from Bay Hills Methodist Church History
By Dale Ducote, a former member of
Bay Hills Methodist Church
May 20, 2017
The Bay Hills Church
The little white church at the country side
Still stands staunchly with time and time;
Its history lies in the fleeing past,
But the good it has done will always last.
The lovely magnolias are blooming still
On the side of the church upon a hill.
The exquisite blossoms steal one’s heart,
The true work of God and not of art.
The echoes of that chapel bell
Will resound forever through the dell;
The stories told of men of yore
Will be repeated more and more.
To those who near it still do dwell
It is their mighty Citadel,
For where God is He makes it great;
He is the Guardian of our fate.
Mildred Thayer Eubanks
The Burch Bell Tower Video Announcement