Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Amherst, Virginia.
Friday, November 24, 2017
We serve the Lord with love and praise.

HISTORY OF EMMANUEL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

            The  ‘circuit rider’ and the ‘class meeting’ (or society)--outside the few settled communities where population was enough to form a congregation-- were key to the genesis of Methodism in not only Amherst, Virginia but the entire country in  the pioneer era. The itinerant ‘circuit rider’ was uniquely able to seek out the widely separated settlers broadly scattered in the wilderness. One Methodist circuit rider reports that locating these early pioneers in the Amherst area was made more difficult because the haze of The Blue Ridge Mountains blended with the identifying smoke from home fires. 
            In the colonies the first Methodist Class/Society, under the leadership of Barbara Heck, Phillip Embury and Captain Webb, was established in New York City in 1768 in what is now John Street Methodist Church. In 1771 Francis Asbury, an emissary of John Wesley, arrived in the colonies. He itinerated from Maine to Georgia each year until his death in 1816 after preaching his last sermon in Richmond, Virginia the Sunday before, March 24, 1816 (footnote: starting with 14 itinerant preachers and 371 members in 1771, under his leadership; at his death there were 700 itinerants, 2000 local preachers, and 214,000 members) Asbury is known to have presided over at least one Annual Conference in Lynchburg in 1805.
            Of local interest, during Revolutionary times it is recorded (Alfred Percy-pg 92) that Methodist came into possession of St Marks Chapel in Clifford in as much as Loyalists of the Established Church of England had removed themselves from the revolutionary arena. As regards Clifford, formerly New Glasgow and originally Cabellsburg , it is recorded that Thomas Coke, first Bishop of the M.E. Church, visited there in  1787 noting  his  enjoyment of the area as it reminded him of his native Wales.
            Other itinerant preachers of note, who plied ‘ole” Amherst; were Lorenzo Dow, Jesse Lee, and John Early. While Amherst native Peter Cartwright was born in Shipman, he migrated west with his family as a child, later to became one of the best known evangelist of the time. Another local itinerant circuit rider of note is Stith Meade of the “prayer rock’ at Wrights Shop Road. It is he who was known, among many successes, to have been instrumental in establishing and promoting the well known “Amherst Camp Meeting”. (Further research is needed to determine the location.) 
            As homesteads and settlements grew class meetings transitioned into established congregations and churches.  Of record is Mt Tabor Methodist Church which was established in the late 1700’s with the earliest (1805) known Methodist church building in “ole” Amherst. Research to date identifies over thirty Methodist churches located in Amherst County by the period of the Civil War. 
            It was with the formation of Nelson County from “Ole” Amherst in 1805 that the ‘new” Amherst then located its first court house at the current site in 1808. It is therefore reasonable to assume that after this date there would have been sufficient population growth  to have included a Methodist Class Meeting/Society until we have the first recorded formation of an organized church in 1851 (research by Sandy Episito for application for Edgewood on Historical Registry). As was common with community organizations in those early days they frequently used the local court and school houses for meeting places. Such was the case here in Amherst as the local Clinton Lodge 73 reports meeting in the Court House prior to jointly using Edgewood, the late estate of Jesse A. Higginbotham, in 1851 along with Higginbotham Academy and the Court House Methodist church. It is most probable that Emmanuel  church followed the normal course of development from “Class Meeting” to “Society” to organized church well before 1851 and that this congregation used the Court House as a meeting place thus gaining its identification as the Court House Methodist Episcopal Church.
            Here we have pieces of history that can not be found in the record available up to this time. While it is well based conjecture that Methodists gathered and organized in the Town of Amherst sometime between 1808 and 1851 we do know that after the later date that Higginbotham Academy, the Clinton Lodge and Methodist shared at least three different locations and structures on Main Street: first Edgewood (1851-1867); then a building on a lot “on the corner of West Court and Main Street” (1867-1870) when the building burned; and an unknown third location similarly used (1870-1888). 
            In 1871 the Conference (ME Church South) divided the Amherst Circuit into Amherst and West Amherst with Amherst being the ‘Station Church’ for the former and Mt Pleasant for the later each having approximately fifteen ‘out appointments’ or churches apiece.
Respectfully submitted: F. Ray Hazlett October 2008

            On the third day of January 1888, the deed was executed by Tinsley L. Allen and Margaret G. Allen giving the Trustees of Emmanuel a piece of land adjoining the Court House square to build a place of worship. During the pastorate of C. E. Blankenship (1907-1911) The Amherst Circuit was reduced to four churches, namely: Emmanuel, Pleasant Grove, Sardis and Berkley. On February second 1910, another deed was recorded between Margaret G. Alien and the Trustees of Emmanuel Methodist Episcopal Church South, for the sum of two hundred dollars, deeding a lot adjoining the lot on which the church was located. In 1928, an addition was added creating more room for classes, kitchen and dining facilities. During the Conference Year 1954-55, Emmanuel became a station with a membership of 297. The Rev. Byron S. Hallstead was pastor. 
                In the fall of 1963, Mr. and Mrs. W. M. Gannaway donated a parcel of land containing 3 acres, more or less, in memory of Mrs. Gannaway's mother, Carrie B. Cunningham (Mrs. Thomas J. Cunningham) on which the new church was to be constructed. The Rev. Norman S. Chattin was appointed minister in June 13, 1963. Ground Breaking Services for the new Emmanuel Methodist Church were held Sunday, March 15, 1964. Construction commenced immediately. The first service was held in the new church building on January 24, 1965.
                        In November, 1988, the Pleasant Grove Church was closed and the membership moved to Emmanuel.
During the spring of 1992, the sanctuary was renovated.  The cinder block walls were plastered and painted.
During the March and April 1995 renovations were completed in the front of the sanctuary in preparation for the new organ. Hardwood flooring was put down, the choir area made to seat more choir members and the altar was sized down to fit other renovations. Mr. Charles Vail, original architect, was the consult for these renovations.
                The new organ was built by the Bedient Organ Company in Lincoln, Nebraska. It was disassembled and brought to Amherst crated and packed in boxes. On Sunday April 23, 1995 the truck arrived and 40 church members helped to carry in the organ. A team of 3 men came to begin rebuilding the organ. Mr. Gene Bedient arrived the beginning of the next week to begin voicing the pipes. He was here for 3 weeks completing the voicing and fine tuning the sound for the acoustics in the sanctuary. May 14 was the first date the organ was used for worship.
In 2004, a dream was realized by several members as the Emmanuel Early Learning Center was established. Sue Lamm was secured as the Center’s Director. Even though the center is privately owned, it has become a vibrant ministry of the church.
                        In the summer of 2008, the Trustees began a vigorous Capital Improvement Campaign entitled “Building upon God’s Promises!” Emmanuel’s goal is to raise $80,000 plus to maintain the building for future generations to come. Projects included were the replacement of the roof, the painting of the exterior woodwork and the installation of a new air conditioning unit for the sanctuary. All of these and many other projects have been completed! And to date 60% of the funds borrowed have already been paid back.  In 2009 and 2010 a newly created Visioning Team will begin to explore greater opportunities for ministry. 
                        Today, as we look back over at least 158 years of ministry, we will not only see how our spiritual ancestors built upon the promises of God; but how we can continue to build upon God’s promises for generations to come!