The History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Today’s New International Version (TNIV)
The history of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church is pre-dated by the events and growth of Methodism in England and America. It all began with John Wesley, born in 1703 in England, who was the driving force behind Methodism. Wesley was educated at Oxford, and was ordained as a priest in the Anglican Church (Church of England).
While at Oxford, Wesley joined a “Holy Club” started by his brother Charles, and John immediately became its leader and developed the systematic and methodical rules for the study of scripture, for holy living and behavior, apportioning their time to study and religious duties, and was consequently branded by their fellow students as the Methodists.
In 1737 John and a core group of Anglican preachers began an evangelistic movement taking the “old Bible Christianity” to the people of England, preaching in factories, in homes, and wherever the people were, rather than in the churches. That began what became known as Methodist societies, stressing the living of a more sacred life. John Wesley “never intended for his followers to be anything but members of the Church of England” “Mr. Wesley had no intention of establishing a church—that is he had no intention of forming what we would call a denomination.” He simply wanted “to reform the continent, and to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land. He saw his work as that of promoting an evangelical revival within the Church—the Church of England—of which he remained a loyal priest until his death. Throughout most of his life he resisted the temptation to set up an independent church.”
The movement grew and spread throughout England. In the late 1760’s volunteer preachers from the movement were sent to the American colonies. These preachers, known as Circuit Riders, spread Methodism by traveling on horseback and preaching throughout the Colonies. Methodist meeting houses were established by the new Methodist societies in America.
In 1772, “Robert Williams, a circuit riding lay preacher began carrying his message to scattered groups” between Richmond and Old Point Comfort, thus beginning the formation of Methodist societies in the Williamsburg Area.
The decision was finally made and; “Accordingly, application was made to the Quarterly Conference held at Tabernacle Church on January 12, 1885. A building committee was formed and included E. T. Martin, C. P. Marston, M. Mattingley, G. W. Bacon, and D. W. Marston. The Quarterly Conference held at Tabernacle on January 25, 1886 added L. L. Martin to this committee”.[i]
The recorded deed for the purchase of the church property says: “This deed made this 27th day of March A.D. 1886 between J. F. Hubbard of the County of York, State of Virginia, of the first part (current owner) and R. G. Simmons, Cary Wilkinson, George W. Bacon, E. T. Martin, and C. P Marston (Trustees of the church) of James City and that aforesaid parties of the second part (buyers of the property) witnesseth that for and in consideration of the sum of Five dollars to the said J. F. Hubbard, in hand paid by the said parties of the second part the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledging the said J. F. Hubbard doth grant bargain and sell unto the said parties of the second part with general warranty all that certain piece or parcel of land lying, being, and situate in the County of James City being a part of the tract of land called (blank space) near Toano Station on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway and which is bounded as follows to wit…(description of boundaries of the property).”[ii] Hence, the purchase of the property for the new church location was made.
No record has been found as to why “Mount Vernon” was selected as the name for the new church.
Mrs. Ruth Hankins, a member of Mt. Vernon for many years retells her conversation some years ago with two gentlemen who witnessed the relocation of the James City Chapel building by way of the railroad to its present site on the hill. They did move a part of that church, I was told by two men living at the time. I suppose Mr. Lemmon was probably in his thirties at the time. I asked how in the world they moved it and he said, “Well, there were no buildings through there to bother us, no houses at all. They used oxen to pull the building up the hill. Then they took off the outside of the building, as planks were very rare then.” There was no saw mill on the Peninsula until 1892, so every plank used had to be “pit sawn”. This was done by one man getting in a pit with one end of the saw and the other man above with the log across the pit. If planks were not sawn then they had to be shipped-in at great expense, so lumber on old buildings was very precious and thus salvaged. Some of the lumber which was not reused on the church was put on the barn of Joe Cottrell’s grandfather. When the church was completed in 1887, in the form of one long building, it was said to look like a shoe box perched on top of the hill. The pulpit was located in the alcove where the piano now sits (2012), and the front door was in the opposite alcove where the organ is today (2012), with the seating arranged at a 90 degree angle to what we have today. The building was jokingly referred to as “Martin’s Box” because at least nine families that moved their memberships from James City Chapel (to Mount Vernon) were named “Martin”. The total cost of the refurbished building was $950.00 with the exception of new pews which were to come later.[iii]
In an effort to purchase pews for the church, the women of the community, not just the Methodist women, had quilting bees, and knitted items to sell. They worked diligently piecing, quilting and knitting to help furnish the sanctuary. In July 1887 the Reverend W. P. Wright came to speak as a guest lecturer. As all the pews were not in, the congregation had to bring their kitchen chairs from home in their wagons in order to have enough seats for this special occasion. To the dismay of the women who worked so faithfully, Reverend Wright lectured on “Job’s wife”. They felt he should have emphasized one of the more faithful women of the Bible, like Ruth, Esther, or Hannah. When Mrs. Hankins interviewed one of the women who had been present at the occasion, she stated that at the forgiving age of 108, she was still annoyed at the choice of topic! “The church was next used on September 18, 1887, at which time the Reverend Woodward united in marriage Mr. Wyatt Woodward of New Kent, and Miss Hester J. Bowles of James City.”[iv] “The newlyweds were Joe Cottrell’s maternal grandparents. “On September 26, 1887, the first sermon ever preached in the church was delivered by the pastor, Reverend S. H. Johnson. On the 30th of the same month he organized a society of twenty members (the Charter Members), most of who transferred from James City Chapel”[v]
“The building was finished in the spring of 1888 and on Sunday, May 27, 1888 it was dedicated to God by W. E. Evans of the Virginia Conference, preaching the dedicatory sermon.”[vi]
Some shrubs were planted around the sanctuary and to keep the building and grounds in order there was a major spring cleaning every year after that. The women came and washed the windows and cleaned the floors, and polished the pews while the men raked the leaves and picked up the many fallen pine tree boughs which they threw into a large bonfire.[vii]
Until 1909, Mount Vernon was part of the New Kent Circuit, (5-Point charge) consisting of Kelton (Centerville Road and present-day Route 60), Pamunkey, New Kent Chapel, Tabernacle, and Mount Vernon. The new Toano circuit (2-Point Charge) consisting of Tabernacle and Mt. Vernon was established in that year with Reverend J. E. White assigned as Pastor.[viii]
According to the recorded deed, on March 2, 1910, Mount Vernon and Tabernacle churches purchased the property for a parsonage from Mr. and Mrs. H. U. Stephenson for $1200.00. (Note: For the price of $1200.00 in 1910, it may be reasonable to believe that a house already existed on the property. Eleven years later, notes from the 1921 Quarterly Conference for Mount Vernon and Tabernacle valued the parsonage at $2500.00) “The Parsonage, up until the late 1920’s was on Route 60, between Mrs. Mosely’s Diner (Toano Pharmacy) and the old Wayside Inn, since torn down.[ix]
In 1914 the sanctuary was enlarged to accommodate a growing congregation. An additional seating area was constructed to form a T-shaped sanctuary entered through a new bell tower. This arrangement called for the relocation of the pulpit to its present spot and the addition of large windows where the original front door and pulpit had been. As the entire Sunday school met in this one building, floor to ceiling folding doors were placed midway in the new section and some tall screens covered with burlap closed-off the front alcoves on the floor Behind the folding doors was the primary department with three (3) classes, the men’s Bible class met on the benches just inside the vestibule door, the women’s class was in another corner, the young people met in the choir loft, the grade school boys were in one alcove, and the girl’s class was in the other. The girl’s class was easily and often distracted by bees entering their alcove. They weren’t particularly afraid but found it very difficult to get anything accomplished while swatting bees. There were so many bees under the weatherboarding on that side before it was removed during the 1914 construction that honey was often seen dripping down the outside of the building on a hot summer day.[x] (Note: At this writing one can see the remaining fixtures fastened to the floor where they once held the folding doors in place.)
The comment in the 1914 history about the “new bell tower” raised questions during the 2012 research as to whether it was a new bell tower for an old bell, perhaps for a bell from the original James City Chapel, or simply a new tower and a new bell. In the fall of 2010, while the bell tower was being painted, Sidney E. “Pete” Sheldon, Trustee, asked the contractor to note any inscriptions that may appear on the bell. Stamped on the bell was “The Bell Company, Hillsboro, Ohio” followed by the numbers “40 42 44”.
Charles Singleton Bell started a foundry business in 1858 making steel farm tools and equipment. In 1875 he began to make bells, primarily for farm use, but later made larger bells for schools and churches. The company continues today making farm machinery; however, in 1974 the “bells” part of the business was sold to Prindle Station Bell Company, located in Washougal, WA.
Hoping that the “40 42 44” might be a date code, The Bell Company and Prindle Station Bell Company were both contacted. It was confirmed that the numbers represent a date code, but neither company has any of the old records that could tell us what the actual date was for the manufacture of the bell.
Based on the fact that in 1884 the old James City Chapel “was not thriving and the building was getting in disrepair, though not completely unusable”[xi], it is unlikely that the trustees of that time would have ordered a bell for the old chapel while contemplating the cost of moving the chapel to Toano. It would appear from the facts that the “new bell tower” built in 1914 probably included a new bell from The Bell Company at that time.
In 1915, Mount Vernon swapped land with Thomas P. Hammer, the developer for Toano Terrace, the community across the street from the church. That land was designated for a future parsonage on Mt.Vernon property. According to a December 29, 1927 Deed of Trust, $3500 was borrowed by Mount Vernon and Tabernacle for the construction of a new parsonage at that site adjacent to the church.[xii]
When Pastor Benny (B.) Bland (1929-1933) came to Toano in 1929, he took the young adult class out of the choir loft and into the living room of the newly built parsonage for Sunday school classes. When planting day was held to spruce-up the new house, everybody brought what extra shrubs, pines, and flowers they could spare. For several days the men came and planted and the women made dinner served on the grounds. It was typical not to turn away any of the plantings offered. Mrs. Hankins recalls someone bringing a plant called Martha Washington’s Bower, a very pretty plant with beautiful berries. Unfortunately when it gets started it takes over, so Mrs. Hankins advised the pastor to plant it where it couldn’t possibly live. He replied “I have just the right place for it”, and then planted it in the corner of the yard right in the middle of the fireplace ash pile. His scheme unfortunately failed and Martha Washington’s Bower has been a nuisance for over fifty (50) years.[xiii]
During Rev. Benny Bland’s ministry, a missionary society was organized. At that time there was an active Ladies Aid Group which would hold bazaars and other fundraising activities to purchase accessories (curtains, etc.) for the church or parsonage, but no funds were designated for the mission work. So two or three of the women with the help of Pastor Bland set out to organize a missionary society. One of the women, Mrs. Grantham, was particularly helpful as she was fresh out of a missionary society in Richmond. There was, of course, a little opposition to the idea, as two of the women expressed concern that every bit of the money raised was needed for Mount Vernon. At that time, Mount Vernon Church was responsible for the furnishings and maintenance downstairs at the parsonage, while Tabernacle Church was responsible for caring for the upstairs. To settle the matter all the women of the church were called to a meeting where a woman from Richmond came to share information about the society. All of the pros and cons were discussed at length. When the final vote was taken only three stood up to oppose. One of those confided that she simply didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. So the first Women’s Missionary Society was formed at Mount Vernon in 1930.[xiv]
Reverend J. T. Greene (1933-1935) was a very delightful old gentleman who brought with him a fine sense of humor and two energetic daughters, Felicia and Louise. While home from college in June the girls led and organized the first Vacation Bible School at Mount Vernon. The front of the sanctuary was used for music while all the classes were held in back behind the old folding doors. When the weather was good they met outside and were treated to cookies and Kool-aid for refreshments.[xv]
The following summer in 1937, the Reverend W. W. Norris (1937-1938) came to the Toano 2-Point Charge and decided that the previous year’s Vacation Bible School could be improved upon. So, he succeeded in getting permission to use the more spacious Toano School facilities on Forge Road for the next two summers. The school chapel was use for opening exercises and the classrooms were available for the various age groups. Children came from all over the area and everyone had such a grand time that they continued Vacation Bible School for a whole month.[xvi]
Rev. Norris also changed the previous practice of alternately preaching at Mount Vernon and Tabernacle on Sunday mornings. For several years the Hickory Neck Episcopal congregation met at Mount Vernon on alternate Sundays. He initiated an early morning service at Tabernacle and a later service at Mount Vernon. The change was not easy for the congregation or the pastor, as roads were not as good then as they are today, and the drive between churches took a bit longer. The congregation often sang one more opening hymn until they heard his Ford coupe coming up the hill.[xvii]
The minister following Reverend Norris in 1939 was not quite as energetic about Vacation Bible School, but he did keep a watchful eye on the Women’s Missionary Society. When meetings were held in the sanctuary, Reverend B. E. Hudson (1939-1941) often sat quietly on a straight-backed bench just inside of the door and sometimes appeared to be asleep. He was past retirement age, and had slowed his pace a bit. At one meeting he attended, the Society was debating whether to increase their very small pledge to missions by 10 percent. Many of the women felt that the money could be put to better use at home, for as usual there were so many things needed at Mount Vernon. After enduring many discussions, Rev. Hudson walked to the front of the church where he rose to his full height and preached a powerful sermon, using as his text, John 17:20, on the Christian’s missions to the world. When he finished he walked out the door and went home. Without further discussion the pledge was increased by 25 percent with no opposition.[xviii]
During the years of World War II, Mount Vernon was known as the “Community Church”, which was proudly displayed as a banner in an article in the Virginia Gazette on November 12, 1943. The article announced that a special recognition service would be held at Mount Vernon to honor the 38 men of the church serving in the armed services. Reverend Irving L. Llewellyn (1941-1945) conducted the service.[xix]
Another Virginia Gazette article dated December 17, 1943 said: “A Community White Christmas Service will be presented in the Mount Vernon Church by the Youth Fellowship. The familiar nativity scene will be told in story, pantomime and song by 20 young people.”[xx]
In 1952, during the pastorate of Reverend John S. Kellington (1949-1952), the Educational Building was erected behind, but not attached to, the sanctuary. Sidney G. Sheldon, (the father of Wesley E. Sheldon and Sidney E. “Pete” Sheldon), who owned the saw mill in Toano, was quite instrumental in constructing the frame building which housed two restrooms, six classrooms and a tiny kitchen. Until that time no water was available at the church requiring that water for cleaning and flowers to be carried in and the Communion Service ware was taken home for washing. The new kitchen and restrooms were quite a relief in many ways![xxi]
On April 2, 1952, a meeting was held to form a James City Chapel Cemetery Association for the purpose of expanding and beautifying the cemetery. Chairperson was Mrs. L. J. Haley; Secretary was Mrs. D. W. (Helen S.) Marston and Treasurer was Mrs. Joe (Mary W.) Cowles. Today the cemetery is administered and maintained by the Cemetery Committee of Mount Vernon UMC, including Sidney E. (Pete) Sheldon, Chairman; Dick Garms, and George Marston.
In 1962 some of the people of the Mount Vernon wrote a letter to Mr. Henry M. Bullock, Editor of Church School Publications, Board of Education, The Methodist Church, questioning an article written by him. The article was about criticism of The Methodist Church and its literature. He wrote about various categories of critics including perplexed and lazy critics who do not bother to get the facts, critics who never attend church, and fundamentalist critics. In the first paragraph of his letter of response he said: “By far the largest and most important and helpful group of critics is made up of friends like yourselves who want to offer suggestions as to ways in which we can improve what we are doing or to get further information on matters that perplex them. This is entirely in order and it is the kind of criticism that helps us do our job better.”[xxii] The letter was addressed to Stella Earman, George M. Earman, Esther McKown, Wesley B. Sheldon, Nettie Griffith, Howard G. Sheldon, Ada Sheldon, Omar B. Dryden, Rachel C. Smith, Sallie A. Dryden, Rhoda H. Moyer, and Sidney E. Sheldon. (The full article and letter can be seen in the Mount Vernon Church Archives Book 4, B4-11)
On January 24, 1963, the land which is now the upper level parking lot was donated by Anderson B. and Edwina M. Smith. Sidney E. (Pete) Sheldon said that he remembered that Smith had horse stables on the property.
In 1964, while Reverend Dabney Walters (1961-1965) was pastor, the connecting fellowship hall, kitchen, and nursery were begun.[xxiii]
In 1965, the Mount Vernon Pre-School was opened, and operated for forty-three (43) years. The children of some of our present-day (2012) members attended the school. They included: Paul and Kris Fulks, sons of Judy and Bob Fulks; Brandon and Tammy Hobgood, son and daughter of Karen and Russ Hobgood; Jim Holt, Jr., son of Joyce and Jimmy Holt; Mel Bryant, Jr., son of Jewell and Mel Bryant; Robert Howard, son of Eddie and Pattie Howard; Christopher Latimer, son of Suzanne and Mike Latimer; Sherry Cole, daughter of Nora Cottrell Abbott; Jason and Adam Kendall, sons of Carol and Jack Kendall; and Christopher Delo, son of Fran and Bob Delo. During the years of operation, the school directors, who also served as teachers, were: Resmaye Foley, Ruth Hammons, and Rachel Williams. Some of the assistant teachers were: Mrs. Scherry Barra, and Donna Kessler. The school closed with it final graduation on May 23, 2008.
During Reverend Norwood P. Montgomery’s ministry (1966-1970) at Mount Vernon and Tabernacle Methodist churches, there was a newsletter published called “The Bells”. According to one edition of “The Bells”, early risers could hear Reverend Montgomery on the local Williamsburg radio station on Sunday mornings. The following is an excerpt from one of the few copies that remain.
“ON RADIO…Listen to your pastor each Sunday at 7:30 on WBCI, AM and FM, Williamsburg, as he brings you the WORD—AND MUSIC.”[xxiv] (“The Bells”, October 1966 Newsletter)
Other newsletters offered:
(Ice Cream Social) “Mount Vernon had an ice cream social where 25 gallons of ice cream was consumed by about 250 people. “Ralph Hoar (Scout Master) and Bobby Hoar (Assistant Scout Master) and the whole scout troop did an all day good turn by turning the freezers…”[xxv] Twenty-five gallons represented a lot of turning. (“The Bells”, August 1968 Newsletter)
(Sanctuary Carpet Replacement) The Mount Vernon women were leading the way in raising funds to replace the carpet in the Mount Vernon Sanctuary. “The new carpet project has been approved for a little over a year and a half. A little over $800.00 has be raised or given…We know from the estimates already given that it will be no less than $1100.00 and more likely close to $1600.00.”[xxvi] (“The Bells”, February 1969 Newsletter)
Sometime between Reverend Montgomery’s ministry (1966-1970) and Reverend Green’s ministry (1971-1973) the name of Mount Vernon’s newsletter changed to “The Vine”.
In 1974 the fellowship hall, kitchen, and nursery were paid for and dedicated. The Report of the Pastor for the 1974 Charge Conference written by Reverend D. Michael Meloy stated: “Mount Vernon enjoyed having a number of old friends and members return for Homecoming in June and the retirement of the debt on the educational wing. They increased the celebration of the day by dedicating a new organ for the sanctuary which was the combined efforts of many in the choir and contributions received in memory of loved ones.”[xxvii]
A year later the Administrative Board agreed to needed renovation of the sanctuary. During the spring of 1977 definite plans were made by a dedicated Renovation Committee to purchase new pews, remove the large folding doors in the back wing, refinish the floors, restore choir and altar rails to their natural finish, paint ceiling and walls, and install carpet in the vestibule. The $9600.00 project was entirely paid for upon completion during the summer of 1977.[xxviii] Reverend Michael Meloy (1973-1977) was the pastor during that time.
(Youth Leaders) “On Sunday evening I (Reverend Rudy Smith) met with Joan and Tony Marvins, Elsie and Dick Campbell, Susan and Aubrey White, and Jimmy Hale to discuss plans for the beginning of a youth fellowship. These adults and others will be working with the youth to provide programs and activities for the youth. That’s exciting!”[xxix] (“The Vine”, October 1979 Newsletter)
(College Students) “Nancy Cottrell was named first team, all conference…Tell us Nancy, when you graduate will they retire your No. 10 jersey? Jim Holt, Jr. is attending the University of Tennessee at Martin. He is on the UTM Rodeo Team. He won a Rodeo Scholarship for next year. He came home to participate in the Longhorn World Championship Rodeo at the Hampton Coliseum and won first place in calf roping against several world champions.”[xxx] (“The Vine”, December 1980 Newsletter)
For 1980 and 1981, Carol Hall and Florence Cottrell, Church Historians, noted in a list of accomplishments for those years that: “A display case of 200 year old heart pine built by Glen Siceloff of Mount Vernon was placed in the sanctuary (Narthex) to display articles of church history. (The) pine donated by Joseph and Florence Cottrell of Mount Vernon.”[xxxi]
(Youth in Worship) “The Mount Vernon UMYF presented the entire worship service for the congregation on Sunday, May 20 (1984). Karen Hoar and Rusty Howard did an excellent job with the formal part of the service and the message was provided by a chancel drama entitled The Great One enacted by seven other MYF Members.”[xxxii] (“The Vine, June 1984 Newsletter)
(Three Women Honored) “Our church honored three members at our Mother’s Day Service on May 12, 1985, who had been on our roll for the longest period of time. They are as follows: Mrs. Edmund (Ruth) Cowles (1910), Mrs. William E (Ruth) Hankins (1923), and Miss Nannie G Richardson (1915). Ruth Cowles was pianist for the church for many years and worked with the choir. Ruth Hankins was co-organizer along with Susan Richards in organizing the young ladies into a circle which was named The Susan Richards Circle. Prior to this, there was only one circle of older women who met. She also helped compile the history of our church. Nannie G. Richardson has been a member for many years and her whole family was active in the work of the church. She taught school in Norfolk…and now lives in The Heritage Methodist home…but continues to worship with us from time to time.”[xxxiii] (“The Vine”, June 1985 Newsletter)
In 1985 the UMW circles put on a spectacular “fashion show” that even included outfits made of paper. It was surely enjoyed by all that participated and attended. (It was also immensely enjoyed a second time by everyone attending a birthday party at the church on June 14, 2008, as they watched a video taken of the fashion show in 1985.)
On Sunday, September 27, 1987, Mount Vernon United Methodist Church celebrated its centennial anniversary. The service was led by the pastor, Reverend Charles E. Swadley. Jenny Rowe was the acolyte and her father, Jesse Rowe, read the scripture lesson. The sermon was brought by Bishop Robert M. Blackburn, the Presiding Bishop of the Virginia Conference, United Methodist Church.[xxxiv]
Charter Members of Mount Vernon were listed in the bulletin as: “Alex Barksdale, Mary B. Barksdale, Mattie V. Geddy, Clifford P. Marston, Enoch T. Martin, Ann Bannister Martin, Charles B. Martin, Lindsey C. Martin, Virginia Martin, Lloyd L. Martin, Hanson N. Martin, Richard G. Simmons, Cary Wilkinson, Henrietta C. Wilkinson, and Benjamin Wilkinson.”[xxxv]
Trustees in 1887 were listed as: G. W. Bacon, E. T. Martin, Chairman, Lloyd L. Martin, Exhorter, C. P. Marston, Richard G. Simmons, and Cary Wilkinson.[xxxvi]
Seventy-seven (77) members were listed in the Centennial Bulletin as having been members for more than twenty-five (25) years. The person who had been the member the longest was Mrs. Edmund (Ruth) Cowles, who joined Mount Vernon in 1910.[xxxvii] (List is in the Mount Vernon Church Archives, Book 4, B4-21.)
The celebration activities included a covered dish lunch, a dedication, reminiscing, crafts, living history, musical activities, and a visit from Reverend Dabney Walters, who served as pastor from 1961-1965.[xxxviii]
The Virginia Gazette produced a fine newspaper article covering the event and the history of the church, which included a picture of the church.
The following document was written in 1987, apparently for the 100th Anniversary of Mount Vernon. No name was on the document, but, based on comments made, her musical contributions to the church, and the date of her joining the church (1910); it is believed that it may have been written by Ruth Cowles.
“I was born in 1895, a year after my parents were married in Mount Vernon Church…I was told that during the ceremony, a terrible thunderstorm came up, frightening two ushers so badly that they fainted.
I was fifteen in 1910 when I joined the church. At that time the pastor was (Reverend) J. E. White, and I recall that he was a small, very nice gentleman.
I later began playing the old pump organ for the choir, which was always well staffed and talented. Some previous members of the choir over the years included Jack Sheldon, Mr. and Mrs. North and Teresa Tennis. We later purchased new piano around 1928 for $75.00, and about 1952 we purchased our first electric organ.
In 1928 I accompanied our pastor, (Reverend) G. D. Coffey and his wife and three year old son to Richmond to buy the new piano. Mrs. Coffey left us with the three year old and went shopping down the street. We became so engrossed in our conversation about our new piano, (we) looked for the boy, and he was gone! Needless to say, after some tense moments, we found him.
Some of our former pastors we dearly loved, some we did not care so much for. In 1920 when (Reverend) W. J. Scales was returned to Mount Vernon after his first year with us, his first words from the pulpit were: ‘Well, I’m here, but not because you wanted me, and not because I wanted to come’
But then from 1921 to 1925, we had (Reverend) R. W. Creekmore, and we loved him. I remember him as a fine orator, wonderful speaker, and his sermons left a lasting impression on me. I’ll never forget him saying once that: ‘God was like fire, wonderful in his warmth and terrible in his wrath’.
We had a neighbor, an awful man, a reprobate. Somehow, someone got him to attend Pastor Creekmore’s evening service one night, and the man was converted that very night. He went back home and told his family all about (it), and informed them that everything would be changed, that there would be a blessing said at every meal, prayers would be said by the family, and the church doors were never opened that he wasn’t there.
The parsonage was built in 1929, and our pastor at that time was (Reverend) Benny Bland, who was single, but had an adopted son, (named) Ish. Ish became smitten with Florence Cottrell’s older sister, Mary Porter.
I don’t recall the church having a fiftieth anniversary celebration, but I do remember from time to time all the local churches getting together for “’dinner on the grounds’ as the Fellowship Hall was (not) added to the church until 1964.
One of my daughters was married in the church while (Reverend) B. E. Hudson was pastor from 1939 to 1941. After the ceremony, everyone retired to our home for the reception. We had a large bowl of punch, which someone poured a fifth of whiskey into. The pastor kept commenting, ‘that he never tasted anything as good as that punch in his life’.”[xxxix]
“In 1989 the two churches, Tabernacle and Mount Vernon, sister churches, sharing one pastor for 80 years, separated. Mount Vernon paid Tabernacle for its share in the parsonage, and each church became independent, each having its own pastor.[xl] Reverend Charles E. Swadley was the pastor at that time.
On May 25, 1995, Mount Vernon hosted a meeting of the Peninsula Historical Society. A presentation was written by Lucy Gray Thompson, who had been a member for 62 years (joined in 1933). She said in her address: “Recent additions in 1993 and 1994 to the Education Building in the way of a Fellowship Hall, kitchen, nursery, sidewalks, and just recently a new garage for the parsonage and a picnic pavilion.”[xli]
Lucy Thompson also said in her presentation: “Today (1995), there are three UMW circles contributing to the needs and missions of Mount Vernon. However, one circle, the Susan Richards Circle-was started in 1950 by the County Agents’s wife, Mrs. Susan Richards, who brought together about 15 women of the community, and now, after more than 42 years later there are eight of these same ladies are still meeting monthly and carrying out projects that benefit the church”[xlii]
Lucy also noted that: “We at Mount Vernon are fortunate in having a life-long connection to our past history through two of our members and their family—Joseph Maylon Cottrell and wife, Florence Porter Cottrell. Joe and Florence were both christened and brought up in this church, and their parents and grandparents before them were instrumental in the formation of Mount Vernon. Joe’s maternal grandparents were the first couple to be married at Mount Vernon in September 1887.”[xliii]
The Reverends J. Emmett Wilkerson (1992-1994), Harry F. Gregg (1994-2000), and Jeffrey J. Haugh (2000-2004) followed Reverend Charles E. Swadley, serving only as the pastor of Mount Vernon. In 1989, during Reverend Swadley’s ministry, Mount Vernon and Tabernacle had gone from a two-point charge to each station church being served by its own pastor.
In 2004, Reverend David E Craig, was appointed as pastor, and is our current pastor today (2012). During his ministry, “Pastor David”, as he is affectionately called by his congregation, has worked with the people of the church to create a spiritual environment that has fostered and nurtured an attitude of “laity servant-hood” at Mount Vernon. In the State of the Church Reports written by laity for the Charge Conferences over the past several years, there were phrases like; “We are stepping out boldly in faith”[xliv]; “There is strong evidence at Mount Vernon of the kind of love, caring, sharing and commitment that Jesus would ask of his followers and disciples”[xlv]; “The people of Mount Vernon have shown that the vitality of the church can be measured by the number of times that the congregation respond to doing God’s work by saying yes”[xlvi]; and “We are looking forward to the future of Mount Vernon UMC with dedicated effort and renewed optimism as we grow by striving to ‘live’ our vision”[xlvii].
Pastor David noted in his Written Pastor’s Report to the 2008 Charge Conference that: “We have been Christ to the community as we have worked with area agencies; United Way, FISH, Salvation Army, Red Cross, and the Pastor’s Fellowship Fund”[xlviii] for the needy. “Together we have supported The Salvation Army through the Kids Korner Kupboard that collected, boxed and delivered 50 food boxes.”[xlix]
Our three UMW circles have generously contributed their time and money to make health kits, school kits, layette kits and sewing kits distributed by the Annual Conferences. Many hours have been spent during recent years in preparing and serving monthly dinners in the Social Hall for meetings of The James City County Board of Agriculture and the James City Ruritan Club. The women have dedicated the funds earned from those events to both the needs of the church as well as missions outside of the church.
Funds continue to be provided by the church budget and women of the church to support “The Henderson’s”, United Methodist General Board of Missions, missionaries serving in Mexico.
The United Methodist Women’s (UMW) circles have provided support for, but not limited to, the following organizations: The Salvation Army, The Red Cross, Dream Catchers, United Nations Foundation, Hospice, Operation Christmas Child, Meals on Wheels, Kairos Prison Ministry, The Wesley Foundation at the College of William and Mary, Proud Patriots, FISH, Heifer International, Capernium, Wesley Community Center, The Christian Appalachian Project Tsunami Relief, the General Fund and church maintenance projects of Mount Vernon UMC. The 2012 UMW Officers are: Priya Mathew-President, June Kasparek-Vice President, Jewell Bryant,-Secretary, and Barbara Morse-Treasurer.
The United Methodist Men’s (UMM) group, in collaboration with the Church Trustees, has been continuously busy maintaining and upgrading the church buildings, grounds and parsonage, keeping them functional and attractive for the congregation and newcomers. The congregation also looks forward to the 5th Sunday breakfasts of eggs, pancakes, sausage patties, and fruit cups cooked and presented by the UMM. The highlights of those breakfasts have been the yummy biscuits and “special” gravy provided by Stewart Howard.
A 120th Anniversary Celebration Service occurred on September 22, 2007. The Reverend D. Michael Meloy was the guest speaker for the occasion. Reverend Meloy had served as the pastor at Mount Vernon and Tabernacle from 1973 to 1977, and served as the Peninsula District Superintendent from 1996 to 2004.[l]
Reverend Craig came into the ministry later in his life at the age of 42 in 1992. Serving in his church as a lay speaker was only one of the influences on his path to becoming a Deacon in the United Methodist Church. He has not forgotten the importance of the lay speaking ministry of the Methodist church, and while here at Mount Vernon, he has strongly encouraged involvement in that ministry. Over the past four years, the role of lay speakers has evolved in the United Methodist Church from that of simply filling the pulpit during the absence of the pastor, to one of leading, caring, and communicating as they serve the church in many different capacities as lay servants of Christ. In 2007, the only lay speaker at Mount Vernon transferred out. Today (2012) there are ten (10) lay speakers serving in various personal and church ministries. They are Betty Brantley, Betty Smith, Jewell Bryant, Suzanne Latimer, Dick Garms, Ruth Howard, Sandra Stafford, Dennis Morgan, Carole Dishman, and Bob Dishman.
In April of 2009 a group of twelve people began knitting for the new Prayer Shawl Ministry led by Carole Dishman. The prayer shawls provided “a means to bring God’s love, comfort, and peace to those in need; made in prayer, for prayer, the shawls are passed hand-to hand, and heart-to heart, and are dedicated and blessed at the altar.”
“Prayers for comfort, peace, healing and strength for the recipients are stitched into each shawl, along with blessings for happy occasions such as weddings and new babies. By the end of 2011 the ministry included 17 people, and has made 244 prayer shawls, which have travelled as far away as Utah, and even to Mexico. “In this, the third year (2011) of the ministry, we have a new addition–the prayer cloth with a cross knit into the stitches. The small size (2” x 3”) allows for it to be mailed in a card, and can be placed under a pillow or tucked into a pocket. They have been sent to our military troops (in Afghanistan), youth and homebound as a tangible reminder that they are in the hearts and prayers of our church family.”[lii]
Over the years one of the special summer-time events at Mount Vernon has always been Vacation Bible School. The puppet show lessons put on by Pastor David and his wife, Janet, is always a big hit with the kids, and a great way to reinforce the Bible lessons. Pastor David and Janet also have a reputation as “chefs” because of their cooking skills which are demonstrated when the church prepares meals for fund raising events. The theme for the July 2011 Vacation Bible School fit them like a glove as the Vacation Bible School Director, Allyson Short, backed-up by her group of volunteer teachers and aids, prepared for the children’s week-long “Shake It Up Café” experience of “learning the ingredients for becoming a follower of God.”[liii] Other recent Bible School Directors have been Betty Brantley (2010) and June Kasparek (2009) Elizabeth Peak (2006-2008).
Beginning in April of 2010, Pastor David has provided regularly scheduled training for a group of people who volunteered to serve as the Lay Pastoral Care Ministry Team. “Lay pastoral care-giving is a term used to describe a program of providing pastoral care to members of the congregation using laity that have gone through a training program and are assigned and supervised by the pastor, thereby giving the best team or even community approach to the care of souls within (our) congregation”.[liv]
In any church, the worship experience is more meaningful when it is supported by beautiful spiritual music of the organ, piano, and choir. Mount Vernon has been fortunate to have a dedicated music director, Carol Kendall, who regularly challenges the choir with new music that enhances the worship experience for the congregation. Carol started as the church organist in 1977. The choir members today (2012) include: Suzanne Latimer, Jewell Bryant, Judy Fulks, Fran Delo, Joyce Holt, Shirley and Gene Turner, Karen and Russ Hobgood, Bob Dishman, and Pastor David Craig.
One of the busiest ladies in the church, if not the busiest, is Betty Smith, our devoted lay leader who is always there to help and see that things get done. She is an inspiration to all and we are blessed to have her lead the laity of the church in their walk with the Lord. Pastor David noted in the January/February 2011 issue of “The Flame”, the church newsletter: “(While) most of our leaders have chosen to remain in their current offices, one change will be that Betty Smith will be our new lay leader. Betty brings many gifts and talents to this position of lay leader. She has a servant heart and will lead the church forward as we embrace the ministry opportunities before us”.[lv]
In June of 2011, the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church re-aligned some of the districts throughout the state, which reduced the number of districts state-wide from 18 to 16. Mount Vernon UMC was previously in the Peninsula District, which had 35 churches, but under the new alignment, is now in the York River District. The newly formed district is a result of combining the Peninsula District with portions of the Rappahannock District and the Portsmouth District. The York River District of 67 churches is being led by the Reverend Joe Carson.
[i] An undated document attached to the 1962-63 Church Budget of Mt. Vernon Church. The document, A Short History of Mount Vernon Methodist Church, said “The following historical record is contained in the Record books of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church. Copy of this history Document can be found in Book 4, B-14
[ii] Copy of the recorded deed for the purchase of the Mount Vernon Church property on March 27, 1886, Book 3, B3-9
[iii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[iv] An undated document attached to the 1962-63 Church Budget of Mt. Vernon Church. The document, A Short History of Mount Vernon Methodist Church, said “The following historical record is contained in the Record books of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church. Copy of this history Document can be found in Book 4, B-14
[v] An undated document attached to the 1962-63 Church Budget of Mt. Vernon Church. The document, A Short History of Mount Vernon Methodist Church, said “The following historical record is contained in the Record books of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church. Copy of this history Document can be found in Book 4, B-14
[vi] An undated document attached to the 1962-63 Church Budget of Mt. Vernon Church. The document, A Short History of Mount Vernon Methodist Church, said “The following historical record is contained in the Record books of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church. Copy of this history Document can be found in Book 4, B-14
[vii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[viii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[ix] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[x] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xi] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xii] Deed of Trust for $3500 Loan to Mt. Vernon and Tabernacle, Book 3, B3-11D
[xiii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xiv] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xv] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xvi] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xvii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xviii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xix] Virginia Gazette Article Dated November 11, 1943, Book 3, B3-31
[xx] Virginia Gazette Article Dated December 17, 1943, Book 3, B3-31A
[xxi] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xxii] Article and letter from Mr. Henry M. Bullock, Board of Education, The Methodist Church, Book 4, B4-11
[xxiii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xxiv] October 1966 “The Bells” newsletter, On Radio reference, Book 4, B4-1, Page 2
[xxv] August 1968 “The Bells” newsletter, Ice Cream Social reference, Book 4, B4-2, Page 3
[xxvi] August 1968 “The Bells” newsletter, New Carpet reference, Book 4, B4-3, Page 2
[xxvii] Report of the Pastor for 1974 Charge Conference, By Reverend Michael Meloy, Book 4, B4-19
[xxviii] Previous History of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church written by Florence Cottrell, Book 3, B3-1A
[xxix] October 1979 “The Vine” newsletter, Youth fellowship reference, Book 4, B4-9, Page 4
[xxx] December 1980 “The Vine” newsletter, College students reference, Book 4, B4-10, Page 3
[xxxi]Mount Vernon UMC History and Records Report for 1980-81, Book 4, B4-17
[xxxii] June 1984 “The Vine” newsletter, Desserts for Fish Fry reference, Book 4, B4-11, Page 4
[xxxiii] June 1985 “The Vine” newsletter, Three Women Honored reference, Book 4, B4-12, Page 3
[xxxiv] Church Bulletin for September 27, 1987, Centennial Celebration, Book 4, B4-20
[xxxv] Church Bulletin for September 27, 1987, Centennial Celebration, Book 4, B4-20
[xxxvi] Church Bulletin for September 27, 1987, Centennial Celebration, Book 4, B4-20
[xxxvii] Bulletin Insert for Sunday, September 2, 1987. Book 4, B4-21
[xxxviii] Church Bulletin for September 27, 1987, Centennial Celebration, Book 4, B4-20
[xxxix] Thoughts and Memories of a Long-time Member of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church, Toano, Virginia, 1987. (No name on document. May have been written by Ruth Cowles/), Book 4, B4-18
[xl] A written speech given to The Peninsula Historical Society on May 25, 1995 by Lucy Gray Thompson, a member of Mt. Vernon since 1933, Book 4, B4-15
[xli] A written speech given to The Peninsula Historical Society on May 25, 1995 by Lucy Gray Thompson, a member of Mt. Vernon since 1933, Book 4, B4-15
[xlii] A written speech given to The Peninsula Historical Society on May 25, 1995 by Lucy Gray Thompson, a member of Mt. Vernon since 1933, Book 4, B4-15
[xliii] A written speech given to The Peninsula Historical Society on May 25, 1995 by Lucy Gray Thompson, a member of Mt. Vernon since 1933, Book 4, B4-15
[xliv] State of the Church Report for the November 22, 2008 Charge Conference, copy on file in the Church Archives.
[xlv] State of the Church Report for the October 10, 2009 Charge Conference, copy on file in the Church Archives
[xlvi] State of the Church Report for the October 16 2010 Charge Conference, copy on file in the Church Archives
[xlvii] State of the Church Report for the October 13, 2011 Charge Conference, copy on file in the Church Archives
[xlviii] Pastors Written Report for the November 22, 2008 Charge Conference, copy on file in the Church Archives
[xlix] Pastors Written Report for the November 22, 2008 Charge Conference, copy on file in the Church Archives
[l] 2010 Journal of the Virginia Conference UMC, Information from York River District Office
[l i] “The Flame” newsletter, July-August 2009, Prayer Shawl Ministry, Page 2, copy on file in Church Archives
[lii] “The Flame” newsletter, September-October 2011, Prayer Shawl Ministry, Page 9, copy on file in Church Archives
[liii] The Flame” newsletter, July-August 2011, Shake It Up Café, Page 2, copy on file in Church Archives
[liv] “The Flame” newsletter, May-June 2010, From the Pastor, Page 1, copy on file in Church Archives
[lv] “The Flame” newsletter, January-February 2011, From the Pastor, Page 2, copy on file in Church Archives
Mi Sook Ahn (2020 – present)
Chuck McHose (2019 – 2020)
Lori Beach (2017 – 2019)
Ann Tang (2015 – 2017)
David E. Craig (2004 – 2015)
Jeffrey Haugh (2000 – 2004)
Harry F. Gregg Jr. (1994 – 2000)
J. Emmett Wilkerson (1992 – 1994)
Charles Swadley (1985 – 1992)
Rudy Benesh (1983 – 1985)
Don S. Lowry (1981 – 1983)
Rudy L. Smith (1977 – 1981)
D. Michael Meloy (1973 – 1977)
Donald A. Green (1971 – 1973)
Fred Edge (1970 – 1971)
N. Montgomery (1966 – 1970)
A. R. Turner (1965 – 1966)
W. D. Walters (1961 – 1965)
F. E. Collins (1956 – 1961)
E. B. Loving (1952 – 1956)
J. S. Kellington (1949 – 1952)
H. P. Carper (1948 – 1949)
C. A. McCormick (1945 – 1948)
I. L. Llewellyn (1941 – 1945)
B. E. Hudson (1939 – 1941)
W. W. Norris (1937 – 1939)
J. K. Holman (1936 – 1937)
J. T. Green (1933 – 1936)
B. B. Bland (1929 – 1933)
G. D. Coffey (1928 – 1929)
H. C. Blackwell (1927 – 1928)
R. L. Busby (1925 – 1927)
R. W. Creekmore (1921 – 1925)
W. J. Scales (1919 – 1921)
J. S. Wallace (1918 – 1919)
H. W. Neville (1917 – 1918)
J. K. Walker (1915 – 1917)
C. A. Campbell (1913 – 1915)
J. E. White (1909 – 1913)
D. J. Traynham (1906 – 1909)
J. W. Lillaston (1902 – 1906)
W. E. Moore (1901 – 1902)
W. L. Jones (1900 – 1901)
E. J. Potts (1898 – 1900)
E. A. Potts (1897 – 1898)
L. L. Banks (1894 – 1897)
R. J. James (1891 – 1894)
J. B. Askew (1890 – 1891)
S. H. Johnson (1887 – 1890)