By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
ABERDEEN – Northeast Mississippi has its share of esteemed churches, churches that have been a part of their communities lives for decades. Some even predate the town they serve.
But few are as deeply-rooted as Aberdeen’s First United Methodist Church. This Sunday, the church will celebrate 175 years of Methodism in Aberdeen and a century of worship in their current building, by holding a special service during their regular worship time and a catered lunch afterward.
Church member Bobby Barrett spearheaded the committee charged with organizing the event.
“Our congregation is very excited,” he said. “It’s been a lot of work, but for us in charge of getting it together it’s been fun. We’ve enjoyed it because we’ve learned so much ourselves.”
Barrett said the church was founded in 1837, just south of the Monroe County Courthouse, in a small wooden structure. Soon after, a similar construction was built on the plot of the current building before being replaced in 1858 by a stone building inspired by Greek architecture, which included tall columns on its front and a large auditorium.
In 1908, a conference was called by the Rev. W.E. Bogan to authorize the building of a modernized building.
“It’s funny,” Barrett said. “We were required to build a church for no less than $27,000.”
That includes the sanctuary’s massive windows, created by New York designer Charles Tiffany. The windows, depicting the risen Christ and the nativity scene, were assessed through the years with each remodeling of the church. But today the iconic stained glass is priceless.
Rumor has it Charles Tiffany himself was present to oversee the installation of his windows in 1912, the year construction was completed. The first sermon was delivered by the Rev. Isaac Borders on Dec.15 of that year.
In the ‘60s, the sanctuary was remodeled with blonde wood pews and pale green cushions, but was changed back to its original scheme in 2006. The pews are now a deep mahogany and a warm maroon carpet covers the floor that slopes down toward the pulpit.
“The darker colors make it a lot more worshipful,” Barrett said. “In the past, the only carpet was a strip down the aisles. Inevitably, every Sunday, someone would drop a nickel or a marble and it would roll all the way down to the altar rail.”
Barrett said the church houses many third- and even some fourth-generation members. Over the course of a century, it has become a home of fellowship for the congregation.
“I served 30 years in the Army, and coming to church was always the highlight of trips home,” he said. “Those traditions were such a comfort to us.”
Fellow member Jim Buffington will give a special presentation on the church from a historical perspective on Sunday, but his own favorite memories are a little more whimsical.
“We were remodeling and had removed the wall behind the choir, leaving about a three-foot drop behind them. In the middle of the service, all of a sudden one of the choir member’s feet were up in the air for having fallen backwards,” he said. “I know because it was me. Everyone kept laughing, so the guest minister just gave the benediction and we got out early.”
Member Deborah Herndon has attended Aberdeen FUMC since she was 9 years old. To this day, she remembers her first worship service in the sanctuary.
“We came over from Smithville in 1960 and the first time we walked through the doors it felt like a cathedral,” Herndon said. “But all the ladies had on hats. No one wore hats in Smithville. When we stood up to sing, my daddy accidentally flipped the big red hat right off the lady in front of us, Clara Thompson. She was flustered, and we were horrified, but the real sight was Daddy coming over that pew trying to pick her hat up off the floor for her. It was truly country come to town.”
Over the years, the church has maintained a traditional style of worship. Though membership has seen its lulls and the youth program has dwindled in the past decade, Barrett said things are beginning to turn around.“Just like many other churches, I think younger worshippers are looking for a style a little more contemporary. With both parents working, sometimes Sunday is the only time they can be together, so they forgo church, which I can’t blame them for,” he said. “But in the past few years we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in traditional worship. We’ve also enjoyed the return of a strong youth presence.”
Herndon said the committee’s original goal was to get 200 people to RSVP for the event, but their efforts were rewarded with over 300 calling to reserve a space.
Buffington and Herndon will share personal anecdotes about the church, and two former pastors will speak to the congregation. Also, an anthem has been written especially for the occasion. At the end of the service, communion will be presented before the congregation will enjoy a meal in the fellowship hall donated in memory of church member Betty Lenore.