The year was 1908. Theodore Roosevelt was in his second term as President of the United States of America. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford introduced the world to the Model T Ford. And in Ellendale, Tennessee, a grand experiment in Christian faith and fellowship was just getting started.
The day was April 15, a date that many Americans have dreaded for years. But in 1908 that was a day for celebration. On April 15, 1908, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Ellendale, Tennessee, was established. The church started out as a group of seven people worshiping the Lord in the old Williams School at the corner of what are now Appling and Memphis-Arlington roads. The original seven members were: J.H. Randle, Mrs. Junna Randle, Pearl Menasco Owen, Miss Bodha Moore, Miss Bond Beaty Home, Mrs. May Appling, and D.A. Appling.
The church started out as a circuit church, and was first ministered to by J.M. Hamlin. The little church met for almost twenty years in the schoolhouse, but it wasn’t long before it started to generate a rich heritage.
“Know all men by these present that all said premises shall be used, kept, maintained and disposed of as a place of divine worship for the use of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South…The said grantor does hereby bind its successors, executors, and administrators, to warrant and forever defend, all and singular, the said premises unto the said trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Ellendale, Tennessee. . . In testimony whereof; the said grantors have hereunto set their hands and seals this the 16th day of August A.D. 1917.”
By these words three parcels of land at the comer of Central Ave. and Fontaine Rd. were purchased to be the permanent home of Ellendale Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Three years later, in 1920 the construction of a sanctuary was begun with completion in 1926. In 1931 active membership in the church had grown to 63 members. In 1935 Margaret Lewis, the future wife of Berry Temple, joined the church, and remained the person with the longest active membership until she moved in 2001. In 1938 the church ceased to be a circuit church and became a station church. The first full-time pastor was Clark Bell, who served from 1938 through 1942. As the church grew it became known as the “community church” because Jews, Catholics, Baptists and Methodists all worshipped inside its walls.
In 1939, The Methodist Episcopal Church North and South reunited and the Ellendale Methodist Episcopal Church, South was renamed Ellendale Methodist Church. During the years 1945 through 1950 Ellendale Methodist Church experienced rapid growth under Pastor James W. Darby. On March 28, 1948 alone 11 people joined the church through profession of faith. They were: Sara Louise Taylor, Sylvia Gray, Clara Bishop, Jean Jeffries, Jeanette McDonald, Joyce Smith, Billie Jean Smith, Peggy Jo McDonald, Frances Merle Steele, David Lee McDonald, and Joe A. Finger.
In 1954 the parsonage next to the church was completed followed by the fellowship hall in 1963. The current sanctuary was completed in 1967 standing just behind the location of the original sanctuary. Three members who were in attendance at the first service in the new sanctuary were also in attendance at the very first service in the original sanctuary. They were Mr. & Mrs. P.W. Joplin and Miss Katie Bane. In 1968, the original education building was completed. In that same year the United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church joined to form the United Methodist Church giving our church its present name, Ellendale United Methodist Church.
In 1985 the bell tower on the front lawn was completed. The bell, which was from the original church, is still rung every Sunday. In 1986, while Steve Shapard was pastor, the education building was expanded, and in 1988 a new parsonage, located on Ethel Rd., was purchased. The church offices were then moved into the old parsonage. Additions were made to the facility in 2000 under the pastoral leadership of Don Thrasher when new bathrooms and a new handicap elevator were added. The addition of the handicap lift made every floor of the main sanctuary building handicap accessible, an accomplishment that our members were extremely proud of. It was dedicated in honor of Matthew McKean.
In 2005, an electronic organ was purchased to replace the pipe organ which had not been functioning in recent years. Although many people gave donations toward the new organ, the dedication was made in memory of Billy Sheesley, a longtime member who used his time and talents on countless occasions to maintain and improve the church property, and in honor of Paulette Palmer, whose efforts and sacrifices made the purchase of the new organ possible.
In 2006 a capital improvement campaign began to renovate the existing structure and to create plans for a future education and recreation building to be built. Architects were employed and members and the minister, Michael S. Morris, met to lay the groundwork. By April, 2008, the former church office, (which at one time was the church parsonage) was completely torn down and the rental house purchased by the church in 2002 (on the corner of Centralia and Ethel Road) was renovated to house the new office and conference room. Almost all of the work on the building was done by church members, from tearing down walls to hanging sheet rock, installing tile flooring, new wiring, heat and air, to all the painting and decorating.
In addition to the new office building, the parking lot was expanded both on the back of the property and in front of the church including new lighting and more handicapped parking. A drive-through covered structure was built to allow people to drop off the handicapped or elderly right next to a new ramp leading to the sanctuary. A decorative tower was erected made of stone and a large United Methodist cross and flame accented the tower. Rev. Morris had a vision to enclose the area were the bell tower stood to create a garden area for meditation and prayer, landscaping the area with hedges.
In addition to the outdoor improvements, the sanctuary was updated. Church members, led by member Mark Collins, installed new flooring in the chancel area. The choir pews were moved to one side allowing the altar and cross to become the focal point. The former pipes from the organ were removed revealing two stain glass windows which had been covered by the pipes. Windows were installed on the back wall of the sanctuary revealing the beauty of God’s creation and allowing much-needed light into the worship area.
A long-time member, Glen Alexander, who has a gift for woodworking, created a lectern to match the baptismal fount in the sanctuary. He traced the pattern on the baptismal fount and enlarged it to create the new lectern. As a sentimental gesture, he used wood from the former pipe organ and the pulpit to create the new podium. Mr. Alexander also made the time capsule to imitate the baptismal fount and pulpit design.
In April, 2008, the church began a year-long celebration of 100 years in ministry in the Ellendale community. In April, the congregation and choir members dressed in period clothing from the time the church was first organized. Guest speakers included former ministers Hank Russell and Steve Shapard. Around 250 members and friends came to a special service and pot-luck fellowship. Favorite hymns and gospel music were presented and a special video was put-together with images of past members and events held at the church during its long history. The United Methodist Women put together a cookbook with new recipes as well as recipes from past church cookbooks. A classroom was set aside to view pictures and memorabilia commemorating a century of worship and fellowship. A special Christmas ornament and a DVD were offered for sale as reminders of the church’s rich history.
In 2009 membership at Ellendale United Methodist Church had expanded to 450 and it is still expanding. At that point there were six adult Sunday School classes, and classes for children from infant to teens, the United Methodists Men’s group was very active and the United Methodist Women had four circles that met regularly. Two of our members, Ginny Kidd and Carol Lord, were elected president and secretary of the Asbury District UMW for the year 2009. Men of our congregation served as president of the Asbury District UMM and as the Conference UMM president.
In 2010 we were fortunate to receive more than 40 new members following the closing of Schoolfield United Methodist Church in Frayser. While the church closing was a sad occasion for those who had helped it expand and become a viable influence in that community over many years, the loss turned out to be our gain. The newcomers have been a wonderful asset to our church. They bring much energy and experience and have become a vital part of the body of Christ working with us at Ellendale. They share their musical talents, their leadership in UMW and UMM groups, and they volunteer in every sector of our ministry. Not to mention, they brought their wonderful tradition of an annual Fish Fry to our neck of the woods!
Ellendale United Methodist Church has experienced a rich and colorful history full of many joyful moments and many sad moments. Many people have worshiped at this church leaving all who are still here a wonderful heritage. It looks like the little experiment that started in 1908 is still going at full steam and has many wonderful years yet to come.