Historic Moselle church undergoing renovation

By Charlotte A. Graham/The Chronicle

MOSELLE — Many Mississippi churches that were constructed in the early 1900s or sooner were torn down and replaced with new modern-day structures.

But members of Moselle United Methodist Church are working to preserve the beauty and history of the church structure that was completed in 1914.

Although it has been a part of Moselle since 1879, congregants of the church in this small southern Jones County community started construction of the current building in 1912.

Since then, the church has managed to stand the test of time, but like most things, age has taken its toll on the small wooden church.

The building is not typical of the turn-of-the-century Southern architecture.

Robert McDuffie, a member of the church’s restoration and preservation committee, said that’s because of P.M. Ikler, the German immigrant, who donated the land for the building.

“The German influence is evident in the appearance and construction including the slanting floors in the sanctuary as well as the balcony,” said the Rev. Timothy Beard, church pastor. “The floors slant toward the pulpit where the Word is being preached.

“It’s a beautiful church and it needs to be preserved not only for this community, but for south Mississippi,” said Beard. “People who visit us marvel at the sanctuary.”

Still, the church maintains its beauty both inside and outside. The original pulpit built by John Austin remains and is a testament of the beautiful craftsmanship from that era. Also, the old stovepipe hole is still visible on the church’s tall ceiling.

“Few changes have been made to the structure of the church across the years,” said McDuffie. “We’ve added stain glass windows that were done by John Whitt who lives here in Moselle.”

Whitt is owner of Sweetwater Stained Glass Studios Inc. He specializes in stained and hot glass. The colorful stained glass windows and wooden walls, along with the church’s high ceilings add to the beauty of the sanctuary.

“The building is so old and beautiful we want to keep it period correct,” said Gary Hodges, president of the church’s board of trustees. “We are going to apply to get landmark status (from the Mississippi Department of Archive and History).”

“With a building as old as ours, it takes quite a bit of money to maintain it and keep it period correct. We think we will be able to get some funds from them to help with our restoration. We are looking at every avenue we can think of the raise funds and preserve the beauty of this church,” he said.

Church members have launched a two-year restoration and preservation campaign to make repairs to the small white church located just off U.S. Highway 11, southwest of Laurel.

“We have raised a little over $16,000,” said Hodges. “We don’t have a precise goal, but we hope to get at least $50,000.”

Hodges said the church has not had anything in the way of major upkeep in the last 98 years.

The church has already spent nearly $40,000 this year restoring and reinforcing the bell tower and steeple.

Hodges said problems with the steeple were discovered after experts were brought in to look at a crack that had been in the sanctuary for some time. They determined the steeple was pulling away from the building and patching the hole would not save the steeple.

“I’ve heard it said for years: ‘The only thing holding up that steeple is the Lord and he’s getting tired.’ Come to find out that wasn’t far off. One corner of the tower housing the church bell was resting on one of those huge pine stumps and as it rotted away so did the steeple. The whole thing was leaning.

“It was a wonder that the winds from Hurricane Katrina didn’t bring the steeple down when it came through here in 2005,” Hodges said.

In October 2014, the congregation will celebrate its 100th anniversary in the current building. Although a date has not been set, a homecoming celebration will be held at the church some time that month.

The church’s first building was a log structure on the banks of the Leaf River. It then moved to a wooden building behind a meat market in what was downtown Moselle.

The church underwent a name change and became Moselle United Methodist Church in 1939.

Ryan Grayson, committee member and church treasurer, said although the original log building is long gone, the church maintains Hopewell Cemetery and is in the midst of a restoration of the site.

Board member Gene Hodge said the building is just as important to members of the community as it is to those who worship there.

“Everyone recognizes the role the church has played in the history of this community,” he said.