Family carves out special place in God’s kingdom

Posted 2/10/22

There is something uniquely American about the story. A man and his family hack out a trail on a piece of thickly-wooded land. At some point the man stops and declares, “This is the place we plant the church.”

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Family carves out special place in God’s kingdom

Jana and Alan Metzel in the new chapel.
Jana and Alan Metzel in the new chapel.
(Monitor photo by John Arbter)

There is something uniquely American about the story. A man and his family hack out a trail on a piece of thickly-wooded land. At some point the man stops and declares, “This is the place we plant the church.”

That occurrence was not 200, or even 100 years ago. It was a mere 22 years past, in a quiet corner of northeast Wood County. 

The man leading that site survey was the late George Metzel. The church he founded, Chapel in the Woods, has become his legacy. 

His declaration to his immediate family set in motion years of effort as the Metzel family set about building two homes and a chapel on their 70-acre holding a few miles south of Ogburn.

The family built when they could, with the excess building material from the two homes used to construct the chapel. The family built the three structures themselves. In April 2000, the first service was held in the Chapel in the Woods.

It was however, not the first service conducted on the site. A long-time minister, the senior Metzel led the very first non-denominational service at the site of the chapel in the same year the land was purchased. 

His son, and present pastor of the church, Alan Metzel, recalled, “We did Easter service at the site in 1998, sitting in lawn chairs under the trees.”

Alan Metzel’s wife, Jana, offered that they had surveyed the land themselves using a handheld compass and graph paper.

“We started by clearing an old fire trail that gave us one path into the acreage,” she recounted.

Once completed, the original chapel housed the Bible-based church under George Metzel’s leadership until his passing in 2007. The church grew, slowly but steadily, from 15 members to 30 to 50.

The congregation quickly outgrew the original chapel.  

In the last year of his life, the senior Metzel urged Jana to finish the design on a larger building and seek out a builder who would understand the purpose of the build. Jana designed a building which could serve as a retreat as well as a church. 

A large, common area, open to the rafters, anchors the building in the middle, with sets of quarters on one end and a kitchen and meeting room on the other end. Second floor rooms at each end house a library, office and bunk room. 

Today, the larger, second Chapel in the Woods hosts 75 regular worshipers, while counting about 125 members. 

As noteworthy as the story of the church’s founding may be, the intent of the church is equally worthy. 

George Metzel came to East Texas from Tennessee. He took up pastor duties at Soules Chapel United Methodist Church in Simpsonville, just off FM 2088 in Upshur County. During those years Alan attended and graduated from Harmony High School.

Life took the family to Florida for a stretch, where Alan attained a BA in education from the University of North Florida. The family returned to East Texas where Alan embarked on a successful career as a teacher and coach. He and his wife, Jana, who he had met at Soules Chapel, raised two children, both who are successful adults and resident East Texans.

The return to East Texas gave George Metzel an opportunity to bring his vision to fruition.

As Alan explained, “The Chapel in the Woods was first my father’s sanctuary.” The elder Metzel sought the peace and community of church, but without the structure or strictures of bureaucracy.  

Alan described his father as valuing the independent nature of a non-denominational church. He sought a refuge for himself, but also for other families who sought sanctuary in an atmosphere of a Bible-centric community – simply put, a body of Christ.

Shortly before his passing, the senior Metzel took a family trip to visit relatives in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Florida. It was a six-week trip. In his absence he asked Alan to step in and conduct the services. 

Having served in layman’s ministry his whole life, it was a natural transition for the son.

“We were greatly influenced in our family by the concept of missionaries,” Alan said. He also shared that God often works in unconventional ways. So for those six weeks, he served as pastor of the Chapel. Not long after his return from his family visit, upon George’s death, the leadership of the Chapel passed to Alan.

The Chapel in the Woods conducts weekly Sunday services 10:30-12. It is preceded by a men’s prayer group. A women’s group is also active. The Chapel draws from a wide area. Worshipers come from Pittsburg, Gilmer, Longview, Union Grove, Mineola, Winnsboro and other small communities. 

“We offer family-style worship.” Alan continued, “We find that people are looking for order and reason in the chaos of life.”

Jana amplified that thought, “People seek authentic worship,” she stated. She offered that people coming to the Chapel often state that they feel like they are home.  

A visit to the Chapel in the Woods takes one from the vision of George Metzel – a man who studied Latin and Greek in order to better understand the Bible – to the beautifully-appointed second rendition of the Chapel. 

The late George Metzel now rests in the family cemetery just offset from the path between the old and the new chapel. 

Central to the church he created is the biblical passage offered by Pastor Alan Metzel, when in John 12:32, Jesus spoke, “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself.”