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Swan Song

AHOSKIE – For well over 100 years, those of the Methodist faith in Ahoskie and its surrounding communities have gathered in unison to share a common belief.

They have worshipped together, studied the Bible together, and joined together in lifting praise through music. They rejoiced when fellow parishioners welcomed a new arrival to their family, celebrated the wedding vows of young couples, and mourned the loss of family and friends.

All those things will continue, but not within a building located on the corner of Church and McGlohon streets.

Tommy Mitchell (left), a 51-year member of Ahoskie United Methodist Church, takes part in communion on June 27, the day in which the century-old church closed. At right is Rev. Jason Villegas who will continue to lead the congregation as they merge with Murfreesboro UMC. Contributed Photo

The congregation of Ahoskie United Methodist Church gathered one final time on Sunday, June 27, rekindling old and fond memories of a building once bustling with religious and community activities. Stories were told; old photos and documents were viewed; communion was shared; and a catered lunch was enjoyed on the grounds before the church doors were closed and locked one final time.

An aging congregation has led to dwindling numbers attending Sunday services. The COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the doors of many churches locally and across the state and nation, didn’t help the situation at Ahoskie UMC.

At a meeting on June 6, Ahoskie UMC members approved a decision to merge with Murfreesboro UMC. The two churches have been sharing the same pastor, the Rev. Jason Villegas, for the past two years.

Beginning tomorrow (Sunday, July 4), the two congregations become one within the walls of Murfreesboro UMC.

Rev. Villegas said there are many factors that led to this decision.

“In the year 2017, a majority of the active congregation at Ahoskie UMC left, and the church as a business never recovered,” he explained. “For the last four years, less than 20 faithful disciples of Jesus Christ have kept the church active, to include their involvement with the Ahoskie Community Garden, the Ahoskie Food Pantry, the Farm-2-School-2-Healthcare Coalition, and other COVID-related feeding programs.”

Rev. Villegas stressed that COVID-19 claimed more than just human lives.

Ahoskie United Methodist Church has stood at the corner of Church and McGlohon streets since 1927. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

“Many other churches predeceased the Ahoskie UMC, many of these closures are related to the pandemic,” he pointed out. “The disconnection of the year played a role in it, but the precipitating factor of the closure was leaky roofs. Ironically, in the sorting through old paperwork, a note to a contractor surfaced from the mid-twentieth century, talking about the need to fix leaky roofs at the church house. Protecting the life of the church from the storms surrounding it is always a constant struggle.”

Tommy Mitchell was among those taking part in the final service on June 27. He joined Ahoskie UMC in 1970.

“My wife (Carolyn) has been a member here all her life; her mama taught the Kindergarten age class here for years,” Mitchell said. “This place holds a lot of fond memories for me and my family.”

Mitchell shared that many of main leaders and business owners in Ahoskie and Hertford County attended the church over the decades gone by.

“Plus we had a big presence in our area in other ways,” Mitchell recalled. “Our fellowship hall use to be the hub of a lot of community activities as the boy scouts and girl scouts held meetings there, and it hosted a countless number of blood drives for the Red Cross. And our church once operated a very successful child daycare center.”

Mitchell spoke fondly of individuals who provided the backbone of the church, people like Lillian Boyette, E.J. Gerock, H.S. Basnight, W.H. Basnight, J. Hayes Brett, Hester Gatling, and Mamie Godwin.

“Today (June 27) was the last day for my church,” Sherrie Jager posted on her Facebook page. “We had smiles, laughs, and tears. Old friends came to sit awhile and share their memories. Children came and laughter rang through the building again. We pulled the bell rope and listened to the peals ring out. We had one last communion, then we gathered for one final meal.

“I was the last to leave and as I closed and locked the buildings for the final Sunday as Ahoskie United Methodist Church, I cried a few tears and thanked God for all the wonderful times in his house and all the blessings I received there,” Jager added.

Ahoskie Methodist Church was built in 1904, then on the southeast corner of Main and McGlohon streets. Contributed Photo

“We think about how the church, more than being the building under a steeple, is the people,” Rev. Villegas said.

He used that analogy in his sermon on June 27.

“Sometimes when our institutions disappear, people ask questions, meaning to help us out,” he said. “We need to be looking forward, not backwards. Looking forward to taking up this new mantle. That mantle is the relationship we have with our Lord, Jesus Christ through this church where we have relationships with each other.

“Those baptized in the United Methodist Church took up this mantle by your gifts, your presence and your service,” Villegas continued. “As you prepare to leave from here, from this place where you witnessed and worshipped, nothing is changing about your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Nothing is changing about your calling in life. The mantle you have is the same. The gift of the Holy Spirit is still the same. As Jesus said, ‘take up your cross and follow me’.”

Effective July 1, all of the membership who did not opt out and all of the buildings and capital assets of the Ahoskie UMC have been merged to be part of the Murfreesboro UMC.

“The members who transferred, along with Murfreesboro UMC, will decide the fate of the buildings, which include the church campus, parsonage, and residential plot of land,” Rev. Villegas said, adding that all of which are being managed by the Wesley Community Development Corporation.

“Our legacy will be stored at the annual conference office, but we will also share many of the images and stories, including interviews that have been conducted with stories of the life of the church on our Facebook page,” he said.

Ahoskie UMC’s website (www.AUM.church) also remains active.

The history of Ahoskie UMC dates back to late 1897 or early 1898 when several Methodist families in town began attending Sunday School organized by Mrs. B.G. Williams. The small group met in a second floor room of the Whedbee-White Company store on Main Street.

In 1901, 19 members of Union Methodist Church moved their membership to Ahoskie Methodist Church, which was organized on Nov. 8 of that year.

The first church was built in 1904 on the southeast corner of Main and McGlohon streets.

On Aug. 21, 1927, members worshipped for the first time in the present-day location of the church. Thirty years later (1957), the church opened a new classroom wing and office building. A new parsonage was built in 1963 on Pembroke Avenue. The Godwin Memorial Fellowship Hall opened in 1975.

 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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