As Christians, we realize the importance of telling the story of Jesus, to our children, our grandchildren, and teaching them to do the same, so that the story will continue. Our stories of Jesus originated with the “witnesses” – people who were present at the birth, the teachings, the miracles, the death and the resurrection of Jesus. These witnesses told other people who passed the story to others, until it was written down. Christians are called today to tell the story of Jesus and salvation offered through Him.
On August 26, 1823 a new chapter began in the story of Jesus, when landowner Richard Shelton sold two acres of property for $1.00 to a group of trustees with the understanding that the trustees “erect and build…a house or place of worship.” That was the beginning of Center Church, although the seeds had been planted earlier with the formation of a Methodist class in the home of Richard Shelton. He along with trustees Jeremiah Pearson, Jacob Pearson, Isaac Pearson, Joel Murray, James Davis, William Blair and John Moore were witnesses to the birth of Center Church. These men and the other members of that first Methodist class were most likely the first members of Center Methodist Episcopal Church.
The early 1800’s were the era of the camp meeting, and the Shelton farm was a suitable site. These meetings, or revivals, usually lasted four or five days. “People from adjoining counties and from over the border in Virginia attended these meetings. The attendance on Sundays, especially, often reached five or six thousand persons. At sunrise the people were summoned by a trumpet or horn to public prayers. Preaching was had four times each day.” Circuit riding preachers served both the camp meetings and the established churches on a regular schedule. Circuits were constantly changing with the formation of new churches. At various times Center’s circuit was made up of anywhere from two to twelve churches. Center is first mentioned in the Quarterly Conference of the Guilford Circuit held June 9, 1832. “Center contributed $3.61 ¼ during the first quarter. This is the first reference of Center making apportionments to the Guilford Circuit expenses.”
“A national breech within the Methodist Episcopal Church developed in 1844. While slavery may not have been the direct cause of the division, it certainly provided the opportunity.” The Plan of Separation divided the church into Northern and Southern branches. Thus Center became Center Methodist Episcopal Church, South, although little changed for Center. She was still served by itinerant preachers and quarterly conferences were still held for the circuit. Center’s earliest membership records are from data kept by Rev. A.D. Betts in 1878 and show sixty-two members.
In 1897-98, Rev. P.E. Parker oversaw the construction of a new sanctuary. This sanctuary would be the third for Center, the first having been a temporary log structure which was replaced with a frame structure during the 1830’s. The new sanctuary, a white frame building, was completed in June 1898. During this time great emphasis was placed on mission work, both foreign and local. Center and the six other members of the Summerfield Circuit purchased their first parsonage in 1903. “Whenever the rural churches needed to supplement what was brought in through Sunday morning collections, they relied upon fundraisers. Among the most popular of these would be the Brunswick Stews” started between 1910 & 1920. In the 1920’s, the members took it upon themselves to erect a building, where its members could enjoy fellowship and also use as classrooms for Sunday School, affectionately called “The Hut”. By 1932 Center had 121 members and was one of seven churches on the circuit. “By September 1937 Center had established a building fund for the construction of an educational wing. The ladies of the church provided much of the fundraising work…with most of the labor being furnished by church members.”
“In May 1939 the three major branches of American Methodism united to form the Methodist Church, although no changes were made to the Summerfield Circuit." The sanctuary was renovated in 1941-42 and central heating installed. By 1950 Rev. John A. Lowder reports that “prospects for future growth on the charge are excellent. Many new homes are being built within its boundaries.” By 1956 Center had dug its first well, begun construction on a new concrete block fellowship hall, and the circuit had purchased a new brick parsonage. “It was in March 1965 that another of Center’s most popular traditions began – the country ham suppers.” The ham suppers began when the members were struggling to raise money for a down payment on a new church building. Other fundraisers included the Brunswick stews, barbecues, growing and selling wheat crops, sponsoring horse shows, auctions sales, car washes and yard sales.
In 1968 the United Methodist Church was created and Center became Center UMC. In May 1972 plans for a two-phase building project were launched. Phase One called for the construction of a brick sanctuary and educational wing. Phase Two, to be implemented sometime in the future, called for the construction of a new fellowship hall on the site of the old one. “On 8 February 1976 the congregation began its last service in the old sanctuary (the little white church) and then proceeded as a body into the new sanctuary. The $140,000 debt was retired in October 1979. “At the June 1979 session of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, the Summerfield Circuit was ordered dissolved” and Center, with 172 members, became a station church served by a student pastor.
In 1986 Center began its most ambitious building project – the addition of seven new Sunday School classrooms, the replacement of the fellowship hall, and building of a new parsonage, for a total of $426,406.49. By late 1988 Center reported a total membership of 240. “After a decade as a student-appointed station, Center was elevated to the status of a full-time pastoral station in 1989” and Rev. John C. Fitzgerald was appointed to serve as the first full-time pastor.
In a vastly different world, Center today still faces some of the same challenges that were facing those first trustees – how to make Center a drawing card and a gathering place for people in our community, to serve the needs of a growing church family, to educate, to reach the unchurched – to tell the story of Jesus. We are seeking to follow Jesus, make disciples, and transform the world.