Noel is one of the words you hear all the time at Christmas and only at Christmas. It is traditionally used as the French word, meaning Christmas carol. Go back even further, and its Latin origins relate to birthday, also appropriate for the season.
For the village of Noel, Missouri, it means a lot of mail passes through town at Christmastime from people seeking a postmark on their Christmas cards and letters that says “Noel, Mo. - The Christmas City in the Ozark Vacation Land.”
For the rest of the year, though, Noel is pronounced nŌl. The origin of the name doesn’t come from people having the propensity to burst into singing Christmas carols when they are there. It comes from the name of the community’s founders, C.W. and W.J. Noel. Willis Bridges Noel and Tom Marshall provided the land for the Noel Methodist Church in 1893.
The community of Noel has some fun with its name at Christmas, but the real high time of the year for the area is summer. Float trips on the Elk River, picturesque bluffs and lots of outfitters without touristy glitz draws people in from all over.
Noel is the largest church on three-point charge, averaging about 80 people a Sunday. The church has an active youth group.
The church is also actively addresses a prevalent community need: hunger. Rather than a traditional food pantry, the church works to source food available for donation in the area, collects it, then puts up a sign on Saturday letting people know what is available for distribution.
Once a month the church hosts a free community dinner that is attended by about 60 people. During this dinner they make it a point to reach out to unchurched people who come for the meal, inviting them to church and to special events like Vacation Bible School.
Noel’s close neighbor, Pineville, is another community that has a big summer draw for tourists on float trips, camping and cabin getaways. The community celebrates Jesse James days, a tribute to a movie about Jesse James that was made there in the 1930s. Pineville was chosen for filming because it looked much like it would have 50 years prior.
The Pineville UMC participates in the town’s Octoberfest and other community events.
“We try to stay engaged in the community in that way,” said Rev. Mark Kailbourn.
Many people may assume the rural Missouri in the southwest part of the state is all white, but in the past generation that has shifted. Census statistics for the areas around Noel and Pineville put Hispanics at more than 50 percent of the population. People have moved there for the jobs in the Tyson chicken processing plant.
“One of our challenges is how to meet the diverse needs of the community,” Kailbourn said.
Although in the southwest corner of the state, don’t think that Noel or Pineville are your last stop in Missouri when headed southwest. That would be Southwest City, the cornerstone of
“We literally have an actual stone here that sits at the corner of Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas,” Kailbourn said.
Southwest City UMC is the smallest church on the three-point charge, averaging about a dozen people per week in worship. The service is at 1:30 p.m., following Sunday school. After worship there is some fellowship time.
“It’s a very family-oriented church,” Kailbourn said. The state lines get crossed – people sometimes attend the church who are residents of Arkansas or Oklahoma.
“The Southwest City church is a central part of the community, located right on main street,” Kailbourn said.