Nichols finds new home at Magnolia Methodist Church

Published 5:41 pm Tuesday, September 5, 2023

With the installation of the Rev. Brandon Nichols, Magnolia Methodist Church has a new leader taking the pulpit as it completes the disaffiliation process with the United Methodists.

A graduate of both Virginia Wesleyan University and Duke University, Nichols became a United Methodist pastor and was ordained as an elder by the church. Following his accomplishments, Nichols served Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Chuckatuck from 2015 to 2018 and Jolliff United Methodist Church in Chesapeake from 2018 to 2022. 

Nichols looked back with pride at his accomplishments at Joliff.

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“We put in a lot of structures for accountability and making it a healthier environment, both financially and spiritually, and really did a turn around there,” Nichols said. “I was very proud of all we were able to accomplish in cooperation with the congregation over those four years.” 

At the end of 2022, Nichols parted ways with Jolliff despite the congregation wanting him to remain.

“I loved the local congregation, but I was at an ethical impasse with the United Methodist Church denomination, and so I went on a leave of absence. Eventually, I determined that part of what God was calling me to do was to plant a church, meaning start a church from scratch,” he said. “It’s one thing to try to take down unhealthy DNA in already existing systems and rebuild something. It’s another thing to be able to build healthy DNA into the system, into the system, into the community from the get-go.”

This led to Nichols and friends the Rev. Mary Sullivan-Trent and the Rev. Matt Meisenhelter to start a new faith community called Living Sacrifice Church in Chesapeake. Despite church planting, Nichols still had to work, gaining employment as an insurance claims adjuster for a year. 

Nichols learned that Magnolia had disaffiliated from the United Methodists and needed a non-UMC pastor, which he said was a “godsend.”

“So I lept at it and I believe that it was certainly a godsend, because now I have a church I am building in Chesapeake and a church I am helping to build in Suffolk,” Nichols said. “I get to be in ministry for two different communities, both of which I’ve known my whole life and love.” 

Despite the divisiveness over the disaffiliation, he said there is a positive atmosphere at Magnolia.

“People have their own opinions about the reasons and there are many reasons far more than just what is typically put on display, because it’s far more complex than that,” Nichols said. “My role has been essentially to bring unity and hope. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do.” 

 

Vision for Magnolia

Nichols shared the vision that he and church staff have for Magnolia’s future, noting the first step is healing following the disaffiliation and misunderstandings that can occur with it. 

“Once we come to a place of healing and unity, part of the vision that we’re going to need is to get beyond these walls,” he said.

Noting they are close, Nichols said he believes the level of unity and joy will be contagious. 

“We are going to be looking for missional ways to reach out beyond these walls to make this the kind of church that if it did all of a sudden disappear tomorrow, people would actually miss it,” he said.

 

The disaffiliation

Nichols provided an overview of the disaffiliation process, which started through contact with their district superintendent. After a 30 day discernment and prayer and meetings with the superintendent, it culminated with a voter of 66% or more of the congregation voting to disaffiliate.

“Following that that has to be ratified by the annual conference, which was done last May, and part of the annual conference ratifying the disaffiliation is agreeing on the number developed by the conference trustees of the disaffiliation payment, which involves two years worth of a apportionment,” Nichols described. “They came to that number. They have successfully made their payment. Their disaffiliation has been ratified by the annual conference and they are now ‘Magnolia Methodist’ instead of ‘Magnolia United Methodist.’”

Nichols says the church is now an independent Methodist church.

“Likely, we will be joining up with the Global Methodist Church in the future, but that remains to be seen,” he said. “That has to be the congregation’s decision.”

 

Becoming a pastor

On his journey, Nichols reflected back to when he was 14-years-old and struggling with a variety of issues in middle school, including dealing with bullies.

“I did have some suicidal thoughts as a young kid and when I was on that youth retreat at 14-years-old at Blackstone and we went forward for communition and the minister said the words, ‘This is my body, this is my blood, broken and poured out for you,’ Nichols said. “For the first time in my life it hit me that, when all those middle school bullies said I was worthless, the Son of God  Jesus Christ said I was worth dying for. That was really the moment of transformation for me where I found hope, where I found new life, where I knew that I was loved and redeemed by Jesus.”

Within a few months after this, Nichols said that his life started to completely turn around. 

While attending another youth event, the speaker gave an invitation to young people who were interested in the call to full-time ministry. Nichols said that as the speaker prayed, he himself felt this “deep, unexplainable need” in his spirit.

He said that he looked in the back of the room, but didn’t see anybody there to speak with.

“So I just sloughed it off. Said ‘Oh that was just a fluke. Maybe I wasn’t actually feeling anything,” Nichols said. 

However, it didn’t stop there as Nichols’ grandmother asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Instead of giving her the “stock” answer of going to “law school, become a lawyer and take over the practice after dad retires,” he said something entirely different as his response.

“Almost as compulsion, it came over me. ‘Grandma, I think I have to be a preacher.’ And she lost it. She became ecstatic, jubilant,” Nichols recalls. “Her father was ordained as a Baptist minister.

But tuberculosis kept him from taking the pulpit. He said his grandmother saw in him the fulfillment of her father’s call to ministry.

“I left her house that night thinking, ‘What in the world did I just say?’” he said.

His grandmother shared this career news with is father, who wanted Nichols to study law and take over his firm.

When his father confronted him about it, Nichols recalled his younger self not wanting to disappoint his father resulted with him saying she may have heard him incorrectly.

“After she brings it up, my father looks at her and says ‘Mama, he says he wants to be a lawyer. Not a minister. Maybe you heard him wrong.’ She just looked at me with the most painful expression I’ve ever seen on a human face and she says ‘Oh.’ And that ‘Oh’ swallowed me whole, got a hold on my consciousness. I could no longer run from this,” Nichols said. “So I had to lay down in that moment and admit this is who I was. This is who God called me to be: to preach hope, to speak words of life and I’ve never looked back since.”