(Oak Grove Community) 1860 - 1994
Early information on Kemper County Methodism is difficult because Kemper County was in the Alabama Conference until 1870 when it became a part of the Mississippi Conference. There is no complete record of Union Church before 1844, but some scattered facts during these one hundred and more years are of interest. Mr. John L. Hunnicutt became a member of this church as early as 1863 and served as a steward for a number of years until his death in 1920.
The first family names on record are Carmichael, Evans, Ferguson, Graham, Gorden, Hunnicutt, Killingsworth, McLendon, McKelvaine, McDonnell, McNulty, Nichelson, Nall, Taylor, Page, Rush, Ross, Rogers, Smith, Skinner, Sanders, Holliday, Winningham, and Phillips. Many of these were added to the roll of the church "by profession of faith", but some "by restoration."
The plot of ground where Union Church stands and the cemetery were donated by Mr. Louis McLendon who lived in the village of Oak Grove. Oak Grove was a thriving community one mile away and it even boasted of a college at that time. (Mr. McLendon's great, great grandson Charles Smith, is a faithful member of this church at this writing.)
The original church structure had the same dimensions as the building has now. It was weather boarded and painted on the outside, but was not even ceiled on the inside. There was no heating system for a number of years. Coal oil lamps were mounted on the walls and over the pulpit to furnish some light for night services during "revival times." Singing was done without the benefit of a music instrument until an organ was installed at a much later date. Mrs. Calvin Rush was the first organist. Several instruments have replaced the original one and many musicians have given faithfully of their service since that time.
There is no record of any repairs to the church building until 1905 during the ministry of the Rev. J.L. Jones when it was torn down to the floor and completely rebuilt except for the foundation. This foundation still stands and the original door to the church was located on the right side of the building about half-way down the length of the structure. This project was done at a cost of $500.00. It has been reliably related that, during the roofing of the new building, a man was nailing shingles when he slipped and was sliding down the roof when a nail caught his clothing and prevented his fall.
At that time, Methodist preachers were still riding their circuits on horseback, and were serving as many as five churches in many cases; these were not easy assignments. Often, pastors had to stay overnight with parishioners as they paid their pastoral calls. The best in the house was usually offered in the way of food and lodging to say nothing of the story-swapping. (Some of these were pretty good stories!)
In 1918 a cyclone did some damage to the church building and the roof had to be replaced. This was done with cypress shingles. Later on other improvements such as painting and pews for the inside were added.
For years there was a Sunday School at Oak Grove. This was made up of members from Union Church and the Baptists of the community. This thrived for a long time until some of the families moved away. Later Sunday School was organized and maintained at Union Church. In later years, the church members there participated in a Sunday School at Porterville along with other members of the charge.
In 1922 an Epworth League was organized at Oak Grove by Miss Lillybee Phillips and Ralph Hays from Meridian Methodism. This proved to be a fine league of young people who figured largely in the activities of the community. Much solid Christian training was derived from this Epworth League.
Union church has been served by pastors from Daleville, Lauderdale, Scooba, and Porterville charges before the DeKalb-Union charge was formed. The earliest record of a pastor dates back to 1884 with appointment of the Rev. Daniel Clark Langford. In those days, times were hard, financially, and the church depended on agricultural economy for its main support.
efore each "quarterly conference" money was collected by the stewards and was used to pay the pastor, the "presiding elder" and the few conference askings. Daniel Clark Langford reported to the Advocate: "Our people are greatly discouraged on account of crop failures last year, followed by depression in money matters. We were quite gloomy over the prospect, but on Saturday our stewarts came up with more money than we were expecting." It must have been that very few families had a regular schedule for giving.
It was customary in those days for slaves to attend the church of their "masters." Union Church at one time had a balcony that was designed for the purpose of seating the slaves.
Extended revivals were held during the summertime after the crops were "laid by", or in the fall after the crops were harvested. All denominations met together for these greatly anticipated days and nights. Often preachers were paid for the greater part with syrup, corn, cured meats, chickens, eggs, vegetables, fruit - all raised on the farm. Cash was a scarce commodity, to say the least.
Rev. Roy B. Kleiser, who wrote his autobiography in 1960, included a lengthy chapter about this service to Kemper County churches. He said that he was appointed to Binnsville Charge late in 1908 and at that time Porterville, Briggs' Chapel, and Mount Hebron were parts of that charge. After two years the three churches in the Porterville area were combined with Chapel Hill and Union to form the Porterville Charge.
The pastors who have served Union Church as we have them are as follows:
1884 Daniel Clark Langford
1886 Henry Polk Lewis, Sr.
1888 B.M. Drake
1890 N.M. Clark
1891 George Bancroft
1892 J.T. Abney
1893 Henry C. Brown
1894 Daniel G.W. Ellis
1896 C.M. Crossly
1897 Hervie Mellard
1898 Edward J. Coker
1899 Robert L. Phillips
1900 Ira B. Roberson
1901 J.L. Red
1902 E.C. Grice
1903 S.J. Jones
1904 Lazarus J. Jones
1906 Henry B. Perritt
1907 John W. Ramsey
1908 ---- Ormond
1909 ---- Lewis
1910 Andrew Jackson Davis
1912 Charles M. Martin
1913 Hugh Robert McKee
1915 Reginald H. Clegg
1917 William D. Barrett
1919 L.J. Snellgrove
1921 James M. Broadway
1923 Henry J. Oakley
1924 Daniel P. Yeager
1928 Emmett J. Rutledge
1929 Earnest D. Hutchinson
1930 Lester T. Nelson
1932 E.W. Wedgeworth
1934 John W. Ramsey
1936 Norman U. Boone
1937 Warren G. Black, Sr.
1938 J. Waddell Roberts
1940 J. Noel Ulmer
1942 Wallace T. Mangum
1943 E. Marshall Lane
1946 Daniel P. Yeager
1947 R.L. Salley
1948 G. Howard Freeman
1949 Wilson S. Lambert
1950 Henry A. Wood
1951 Horace B. Welch
1953 G. Harold Fleming
1955 B.E. Williams
1958 T. Rivers Pugh
1959 George Yeager
1960 Jim Luke
1965 Riley Burton
1967 Billy Stokes
1968 Henry Head
At the Annual Conference in 1969 Union was removed from the Porterville Charge and placed with DeKalb and designated as DeKalb-Union Charge. Since that time the pastors have been:
1969 Rayford Woodrick
1970 Doyle Moore
1971 Herman Heath
1973 Howard Payne
1975 Charles Ashmore
1978 George Skelton
1982 G. Turney Whitenton
1985 Sam J. Hull
In the former church organization the local church leaders were called "stewards." We regret that we do not have the very earliest records on these, but, in addition to Mr. Hunnicutt, others who have served as stewarts are.
W. T. Rush
L.M. McLendon, Sr.
G.P. Jones, Sr.
Jack Webb, Jr.
As time went on more changes were made in the physical appearance of the church building and grounds. 1948 brought concrete pillars and steps to the church. In 1954 a new pulpit and alter rail were built, screens and venetian blinds added, and the building received another coat of paint. We cannot forget the generous financial help given by the Graham descendants and other interested people during this particular project.
A blacktop driveway and parking space has taken us away from the sand hill we used to climb, the two front doors were combined into one in the center front, hardwood floors were installed, a water system secured, two restrooms added, a concrete porch was built, outside picnic tables constructed, and more painting done.
On the inside, the church has been almost completely refurnished with memorial gifts. New pews and pulpit furniture, a baptismal font, public address system, a wooden cross, carpeting, cushions for the pews, stained glass windows, astro-turf carpeting on the front, a new front door and iron railings for the steps. Other physical improvements include memorial gifts of a stained glass insert over the front door and a permanent church sign at the foot of the hill. The old piano was replaced and this added much to our services. (we pause here to say a special word of thanks) to our friend from Center Ridge Baptist Church, Mrs. Christine Bates, for her faithful ministry as church pianist at Union Church for a number of years, until May of 1988. June Craig Aust faithfully filled in as pianist for two years after Mrs. Bates. Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Keeton gave to the church the organ of Mrs. Mildred Keeton as a memorial of her. Today Emily Warren and Carol Warren, members of the church, faithfully serve as pianist and organist.
In 1983 the beautiful fellowship hall was erected. It has now been completely finished and furnished. The church has had some gifts of money toward this project, as always, and we are thankful for this continued support.
Union Methodist church continues today (1994) a strong church with an active program. The church has only 46 members, but has an average attendance of 30 for the Sunday Worship Services each Sunday. The church has a strong Sunday School and an active Youth Program, with a Youth Choir that presents programs at Easter and Christmas and other times during the year. Annual "Homecoming" continues each year the 4th Sunday in June. The church has a revival each year. During the year there are Fellowship Dinner and Family programs. The present pastor Rev. Sam J. Hull, has the distinction of serving the longest number of years as pastor of the church in its history. Rev. Hull has been pastor of Union since 1985.
In the last few years the church has added a pavilion by the side of the Fellowship Hall, a new sidewalk on the north side of the church leading to the Fellowship Hall, and a handicapped ramp entrance at the back of the church. A new steeple will be added on the church during this year. This special project has been accomplished by the interest and hard work of Robert B. Wade.
Union Church cemetery has been, and continues to be a hallowed place for many, many families. Time passes on, and through the abundance of His gifts and the continuing financial support from these families and friends you see the lovely well-kept plot we have today.
The original cemetery was small and it was enclosed with an iron fence and an iron gate in 1869. The fence and gate were purchased by the great grandfather of Mrs. Christine Mosely, a present member of this church. He was a Mr. Naylor and he went to Mobile, Alabama to make the purchase at a cost of $500.00. The date appears on the gate.
In about 1915, when it was necessary to enlarge the cemetery, the fence would not reach around it, so the other fencing and a larger gate were used. Then when it was enlarged again in the 1940s the iron gate was taken to Meridian for safe-keeping, since it was not being used. Jesse Graham took particular pains to take care of it and keep it protected. Later, his son Dudley Graham, returned the gate to Union Church in the hopes that it could be restored and used in some way. The original iron structure and the beautiful gate with the "Tree of Life" design is cherished today as a permanent memorial.
During the last decade, $12,000 has been put into a perpetual care fund. The interest from this fund assures the upkeep of the cemetery. Trustees who were charged with this responsibility in the beginning were Axum Sanders, W.B. Keeton, and Glen Rush. Those serving at present are Charles Smith, Robert B. Wade, Willard Wilson, Virgil Warren, Marvin Keeton, and Robert C. Wade.
A project of repairing, cleaning and straightening of the markers has been completed. We are proud of this improvement in the appearance of the cemetery.
The memories we have of happenings through the years, though some are sad, continue to add sweetness to our lives. We think of the babies who have been baptized here, giving strength and resolve to the parents and resolve to the parents in rearing the children; the young folks who have come down these aisles feeling the unspeakable joy in the new lives they are beginning; the faith that makes itself known in our hearts as we have laid to eternal rest those dear to us; and the wonderful day we've called "Homecomings." The fourth Sunday in June has become important on the calendars of all of us who have been blessed by the ministry of the Union Methodist Church. Marriages have not been frequent in this sanctuary. Several we can mention (surly not all) are: Dr. Hack Rush and Miss Nealie Hunnicutt, Mr. Lawrence Secrest and Miss Pearl Graham, Mr. Sanford Graham and Miss Jessie Rush, Dr. Jim Rush and Miss Sallie Hunnicutt, Mr. Guy Jones and Miss Harriett Webb, Mr. Bob Poole Smith and Mrs. Pam Davis, William Keeton and Miss Lisa Jennings. The last wedding was that of Mr. Robert B. Wade and Mrs. Nelda Tisdale.
Union Church has been designated as a Memorial Church. This means that should the time ever come when there are not enough people to keep a active church, the building will be maintained for such services as funerals, homecomings and reunions.
So, for more than a century Methodist have been at work for God's glory in this section of Kemper County. God has greatly blessed this church and our prayer is that we will remain strong and faithful stewarts. As for the seeds that have been sown in the hearts of our people during these years, we cannot say, for matters of the heart cannot be measured.
(NOTE): We cannot close this church history without a special tribute to Mr. W.B. Keeton, a beloved member who passed away on May 23,1984. His life seemed to center around this church, and no one will miss him more than the membership of this church. By unanimous vote we have named the new fellowship hall "The W.B. Keeton Memorial Hall."
Compiled and prepared by the Kemper County Historical Association for publication May 5,1994 by the Kemper County Messenger
P.O. Box 546
DeKalb, Mississippi, 39328
From "Kemper County, Mississippi - A Pictorial History", placed here with permission by the Kemper County Historical Commission.
Jeff Kemp - State Coordinator
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