Methodists celebrating 190 years here
Wednesday, April 10, 2013 1:30 AM
The First United Methodist Church of Philadelphia will celebrate 190 years of Methodist ministry in Neshoba County with a special worship service Sunday.
The special service of worship will remember the past, celebrate the present and anticipate with excitement our further walk with God, members said.
The service will begin at 10 a.m.
Musical praises to God will be rendered by the chancel choir, as well as the children's choirs, guitar choir, drum ensemble and handbells.
The Rev. Fred Britton and the entire congregation invited the public to "celebrate this continuing miracle."
Bishop James E. Swanson Jr., Resident Bishop of the Mississippi Area of the United Methodist Church, will deliver the message.
Bishop Swanson is a native of Houston, Texas. He is a graduate of Southern Bible College, Houston, with a B.S. in Christian Ministries from C. H. Mason Seminary, ITC, Atlanta, with the Master Divinity Degree.
He was elected as a bishop in the United Methodist Church in July 2004 and was assigned as the Resident Bishop on Sept. 1, 2012.
"I haven't heard anyone preach like that in a long time," Rayford Williamson, the local Lay Leader, said after hearing Bishop Swanson preach at the Methodist Conference last June. "We really have a treat in store."
Immediately following the service, lunch will be served in the Family Life Center with the United Methodist Women providing the meal.
Donations will be used in their mission project to provide shoes, clothes and uniforms for area school children.
The Methodists began their ministry in Neshoba County with the establishment of a mission to the Choctaw Indians in 1823.
The Choctaw mission later became known as Philadelphia Station.
In 1837, soon after the establishment of the town of Philadelphia, a lot was secured and a Methodist church and Masonic Lodge building were erected on the west corner lot of where the Citizens Bank parking lot is today.
The church was on the first floor and the lodge was on the second.
In this tiny building, a few but faithful people began the work of the church in a small, thriving community. During these years with no railroads, lights or any modern conveniences to help them, ministers came, served and went their way, according to the church web site.
Early pastors walked the circuit or borrowed a horse, Beatrice Hamil wrote in the Democrat's 1981 Centennial Edition.
In 1901, the old church and Masonic building were moved and a new church building erected where the Citizens Bank is today downtown.
In 1914, the church burned and the task of rebuilding came under the pastorate of the Rev. J. G. Galloway. The congregation constructed a frame building and in 1923 added a brick veneer along with a pipe organ and an annex.
In 1945, W. H. Mars and G. W. Mars made a gift of $25,000 with the provision that the church raise $50,000 to construct the current church building.
This effort continued in 1954. The next year new lots were purchased 5 1/2 blocks east of the former church at the corner of Main Street and Henley Avenue. The new and present church was built according to the latest trends by William Gully Yates Sr. and was completed in February 1957 at a cost of $310,000. In 1976, the new family life building opened.
"Our generation remembers as far back as the Methodist Church being located on the present site of the main branch of the Citizens Bank on Main Street," said Rachel Evans, a member of First Methodist.
Evans recalled the acquisition of the M.P. Moller pipe organ in 1924.
On Monday morning, April 2, 1923, the Rev. L. E. Alford, who was then pastor at First Methodist, was awakened about 3 a.m. with the impression as if someone had spoken to him to ask Dr. W. H. Mars to install a pipe organ in the church in memory of his wife, Florence Latimer Mars.
Dr. Mars was impressed by the suggestion. Taking some time to study the matter, he came back with a counter proposition to the Board of Stewards, Trustees and Building Committee.
He would install the pipe organ in memory of his wife if the membership would complete the Sunday school rooms and make a brick veneer building of both new and old parts of the church. They did.
The two-manual, 17-rank organ was installed in 1924 and moved with the congregation to the new church in 1957. The organ, in much need of repair, was refurbished about five years ago through an anonymous gift. The instrument is only one of two pipe organs in Philadelphia. The other is a 1925 Henry Pilcher organ at The First Baptist Church which was rebuilt and expanded in 2008.
The Methodists, after moving to the current location, over the years talked of replacing the windows in the sanctuary with stained glass.
This dream became a reality in 1999 when the glorious and inspirational stained glass windows were given and dedicated to the glory of God and in loving memory of William Gully Yates Sr. by his family.
The late Carolyn Myers Fulton often talked about the church's heritage and did vast research into its history, which appears on the church website, phillyfirstumc.org.
"What a wonderful heritage we have here at First Methodist," she was quoted as saying.
Mrs. Evans agreed.
"What a debt of gratitude we owe to that small group who met 190 years ago to form our first church," she said. "They had faith in their vision, themselves and their God!"