Kendricks Creek UMC cross ministry going strong after more than a decade

Holly Viers • Sep 9, 2018 at 1:30 PM

KINGSPORT — From North America to Antarctica, people on all seven continents have heard the name “Kendricks Creek United Methodist Church.”

The church, located at 1000 Kendrick Creek Road, has made a name for itself through its cross ministry, which distributes wooden cross necklaces and scripture cards to thousands of people each year.

Since beginning 11 years ago, the ministry has proven to be one of the church’s most successful endeavors. But the goal isn’t to bring attention to the church itself; it’s to spread a message of love and hope to people of all walks of life.

“It just took off,” said John Hackney, a former pastor and creator of the cross ministry. “I could have never dreamed it would grow like this.”

From humble beginnings

What is now the wooden cross ministry first began as a metal cross ministry. Hackney gave out metal crosses during his pastoral ministry as a way to inspire fellow church members and even strangers.

Soon enough, students in Kendricks Creek’s youth group came up with the idea to attach those metal crosses to wooden cross necklaces made by Craig Haney, a retired shop teacher from Sullivan South High School. Thus, the idea for a wooden cross necklace with a metal adornment was born.

Since then, the church has made more than 180,000 of the necklaces and distributed them regionally, nationally and internationally. The Kendricks Creek United Methodist Women has raised around $30,000 to keep the ministry alive through its annual Holes for Souls golf tournament, held at Warriors Path State Park.

How they’re made

In the beginning, making just a few cross necklaces was a long and laborious process. Each one was carved in separate pieces, which had to be glued together before the metal cross could be attached.

As the ministry has grown, the process for making the crosses has become much more sophisticated. Now, the crosses are made from a 2-by-4 slab of wood carved into an elongated cross shape. Smaller crosses are then cut out individually, with no gluing required.

From there, the crosses are placed in a tumbler, which smooths the rough edges. Finally, the metal crosses are attached to the top of the wooden ones, and a colorful cord is tied on to form the necklace.

The Pout House Gang

Lonnie Archer, a woodworker with his own backyard shop called the Pout House, got involved in the cross ministry and was instrumental in simplifying the carving process. Howard Harr soon joined him, and the two now lead the making of the wooden crosses themselves.

Over the years, 14 to 16 people have been involved in the process, forming what church members refer to as the Pout House Gang. The group meets on a regular basis to discuss the ministry and to assemble the necklaces, which the entire congregation helps distribute.

Success stories

Ross Strickler, a church member involved in distributing the crosses, said he’s handed out dozens of necklaces over the years during his travels.

“Normally I just wear one, and if someone comments on it and says, ‘That’s a nice cross,’ I say, ‘Do you want to know why it’s so special?’ I take it off, and I say, ‘It’s because it was made just for you,’ and I take it and I put it over their neck,” Strickler said. “I say, ‘God loves you, and this was made just for you,’ and it’s just amazing the response you get.”

Over the years, church members have handed out crosses at restaurants, hospitals, Bible schools and other local businesses and events. Many of the crosses have also gone to missionaries, who distribute them internationally.

Cham McMillin, who has helped provide supplies and distribute the crosses, said, “The most important thing is that you’ll see a young person you gave (a cross) to five years ago, and it’s dirty and it needs a replacement cord, but they still wear it every day. I see that constantly. It’s a real witness for them.”

If you or your organization would like to receive wooden cross necklaces, contact the church at (423) 239-5411 or kendrickscreek@gmail.com.