Early information on Kemper County Methodism
is difficult because Kemper County was in the Alabama Conference
until 1870 when it became a part of the Mississippi Conference.
There is no complete record of Union Church
before 1844, but some scattered facts during these one hundred and
more years are of interest. Mr. John L. Hunnicutt became a member of
this church as early as 1863 and served as a steward for a number of
years until his death in 1920. The first family names on record are
Carmichael, Evans, Ferguson, Graham, Gorden, Hunnicutt,
Killingsworth, McLendon, McKelvaine, McDonnell, McNulty, Nichelson,
Nall, Taylor, Page, Rush, Ross, Rogers, Smith, Skinner, Sanders,
Holliday, Winningham, and Phillips. Many of these were added to the
roll of the church "by profession of faith", but some "by
The plot of ground where Union Church stands
and the cemetery were donated by Mr. Louis McLendon who lived in the
village of Oak Grove. Oak Grove was a thriving community one mile
away and it even boasted of a college at that time. (Mr. McLendon's
great, great grandson Charles Smith, is a faithful member of this
church at this writing.)
The original church structure had the same
dimensions as the building has now. It was weather boarded and
painted on the outside, but was not even ceiled on the inside. There
was no heating system for a number of years. Coal oil lamps were
mounted on the walls and over the pulpit to furnish some light for
night services during "revival times." Singing was done without the
benefit of a music instrument until an organ was installed at a much
later date. Mrs. Calvin Rush was the first organist. Several
instruments have replaced the original one and many musicians have
given faithfully of their service since that time.
There is no record of any repairs to the
church building until 1905 during the ministry of the Rev. J.L.
Jones when it was torn down to the floor and completely rebuilt
except for the foundation. This foundation still stands and the
original door to the church was located on the right side of the
building about half-way down the length of the structure. This
project was done at a cost of $500.00. It has been reliably related
that, during the roofing of the new building, a man was nailing
shingles when he slipped and was sliding down the roof when a nail
caught his clothing and prevented his fall.
At that time, Methodist preachers were still
riding their circuits on horseback, and were serving as many as five
churches in many cases; these were not easy assignments. Often,
pastors had to stay overnight with parishioners as they paid their
pastoral calls. The best in the house was usually offered in the way
of food and lodging to say nothing of the story-swapping. (Some of
these were pretty good stories!)
In 1918 a cyclone did some damage to the
church building and the roof had to be replaced. This was done with
cypress shingles. Later on other improvements such as painting and
pews for the inside were added.
For years there was a Sunday School at Oak
Grove. This was made up of members from Union Church and the
Baptists of the community. This thrived for a long time until some
of the families moved away. Later Sunday School was organized and
maintained at Union Church. In later years, the church members there
participated in a Sunday School at Porterville along with other
members of the charge.
In 1922 an Epworth League was organized at
Oak Grove by Miss Lillybee Phillips and Ralph Hays from Meridian
Methodism. This proved to be a fine league of young people who
figured largely in the activities of the community. Much solid
Christian training was derived from this Epworth League.
Union church has been served by pastors from
Daleville, Lauderdale, Scooba, and Porterville charges before the
DeKalb-Union charge was formed. The earliest record of a pastor
dates back to 1884 with appointment of the Rev. Daniel Clark
Langford. In those days, times were hard, financially, and the
church depended on agricultural economy for its main support. Before
each "quarterly conference" money was collected by the stewards and
was used to pay the pastor, the "presiding elder" and the few
conference askings. Daniel Clark Langford reported to the Advocate:
"Our people are greatly discouraged on account of crop failures last
year, followed by depression in money matters. We were quite gloomy
over the prospect, but on Saturday our stewarts came up with more
money than we were expecting." It must have been that very few
families had a regular schedule for giving.
It was customary in those days for slaves to
attend the church of their "masters." Union Church at one time had a
balcony that was designed for the purpose of seating the slaves.
Extended revivals were held during the
summertime after the crops were "laid by", or in the fall after the
crops were harvested. All denominations met together for these
greatly anticipated days and nights. Often preachers were paid for
the greater part with syrup, corn, cured meats, chickens, eggs,
vegetables, fruit - all raised on the farm. Cash was a scarce
commodity, to say the least.
Rev. Roy B. Kleiser, who wrote his
autobiography in 1960, included a lengthy chapter about this service
to Kemper County churches. He said that he was appointed to
Binnsville Charge late in 1908 and at that time Porterville, Briggs'
Chapel, and Mount Hebron were parts of that charge. After two years
the three churches in the Porterville area were combined with Chapel
Hill and Union to form the Porterville Charge.
The pastors who have served Union Church as
we have them are as follows:
1884 Daniel Clark Langford
1886 Henry Polk Lewis, Sr.
1888 B.M. Drake
1890 N.M. Clark
1891 George Bancroft
1892 J.T. Abney
1893 Henry C. Brown
1894 Daniel G.W. Ellis
1896 C.M. Crossly
1897 Hervie Mellard
1898 Edward J. Coker
1899 Robert L. Phillips
1900 Ira B. Roberson
1901 J.L. Red
1902 E.C. Grice
1903 S.J. Jones
1904 Lazarus J. Jones
1906 Henry B. Perritt
1907 John W. Ramsey
1908 ---- Ormond
1909 ---- Lewis
1910 Andrew Jackson Davis
1912 Charles M. Martin
1913 Hugh Robert McKee
1915 Reginald H. Clegg
1917 William D. Barrett
1919 L.J. Snellgrove
1921 James M. Broadway
1923 Henry J. Oakley
1924 Daniel P. Yeager
1928 Emmett J. Rutledge
1929 Earnest D. Hutchinson
1930 Lester T. Nelson
1932 E.W. Wedgeworth
1934 John W. Ramsey
1936 Norman U. Boone
1937 Warren G. Black, Sr.
1938 J. Waddell Roberts
1940 J. Noel Ulmer
1942 Wallace T. Mangum
1943 E. Marshall Lane
1946 Daniel P. Yeager
1947 R.L. Salley
1948 G. Howard Freeman
1949 Wilson S. Lambert
1950 Henry A. Wood
1951 Horace B. Welch
1953 G. Harold Fleming
1955 B.E. Williams
1958 T. Rivers Pugh
1959 George Yeager
1960 Jim Luke
1965 Riley Burton
1967 Billy Stokes
1968 Henry Head
At the Annual Conference in 1969 Union was
removed from the Porterville Charge and placed with DeKalb and
designated as DeKalb-Union Charge. Since that time the pastors have
1969 Rayford Woodrick
1970 Doyle Moore
1971 Herman Heath
1973 Howard Payne
1975 Charles Ashmore
1978 George Skelton
1982 G. Turney Whitenton
1985 Sam J. Hull
In the former church organization the local
church leaders were called "stewards." We regret that we do not have
the very earliest records on these, but, in addition to Mr.
Hunnicutt, others who have served as stewarts are.
W. T. Rush
L.M. McLendon, Sr.
G.P. Jones, Sr.
Jack Webb, Jr.
As time went on more changes were made in
the physical appearance of the church building and grounds. 1948
brought concrete pillars and steps to the church. In 1954 a new
pulpit and alter rail were built, screens and venetian blinds added,
and the building received another coat of paint. We cannot forget
the generous financial help given by the Graham descendants and
other interested people during this particular project.
A blacktop driveway and parking space has
taken us away from the sand hill we used to climb, the two front
doors were combined into one in the center front, hardwood floors
were installed, a water system secured, two restrooms added, a
concrete porch was built, outside picnic tables constructed, and
more painting done.
On the inside, the church has been almost
completely refurnished with memorial gifts. New pews and pulpit
furniture, a baptismal font, public address system, a wooden cross,
carpeting, cushions for the pews, stained glass windows, astro-turf
carpeting on the front, a new front door and iron railings for the
steps. Other physical improvements include memorial gifts of a
stained glass insert over the front door and a permanent church sign
at the foot of the hill. The old piano was replaced and this added
much to our services. (we pause here to say a special word of
thanks) to our friend from Center Ridge Baptist Church, Mrs.
Christine Bates, for her faithful ministry as church pianist at
Union Church for a number of years, until May of 1988. June Craig
Aust faithfully filled in as pianist for two years after Mrs. Bates.
Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Keeton gave to the church the organ of Mrs.
Mildred Keeton as a memorial of her. Today Emily Warren and Carol
Warren, members of the church, faithfully serve as pianist and
In 1983 the beautiful fellowship hall was
erected. It has now been completely finished and furnished. The
church has had some gifts of money toward this project, as always,
and we are thankful for this continued support.
Union Methodist church continues today
(1994) a strong church with an active program. The church has only
46 members, but has an average attendance of 30 for the Sunday
Worship Services each Sunday. The church has a strong Sunday School
and an active Youth Program, with a Youth Choir that presents
programs at Easter and Christmas and other times during the year.
Annual "Homecoming" continues each year the 4th Sunday in June. The
church has a revival each year. During the year there are Fellowship
Dinner and Family programs. The present pastor Rev. Sam J. Hull, has
the distinction of serving the longest number of years as pastor of
the church in its history. Rev. Hull has been pastor of Union since
In the last few years the church has added a
pavilion by the side of the Fellowship Hall, a new sidewalk on the
north side of the church leading to the Fellowship Hall, and a
handicapped ramp entrance at the back of the church. A new steeple
will be added on the church during this year. This special project
has been accomplished by the interest and hard work of Robert B.
CEMETERY (full listing)
Union Church cemetery has been, and
continues to be a hallowed place for many, many families. Time
passes on, and through the abundance of His gifts and the continuing
financial support from these families and friends you see the lovely
well-kept plot we have today.
The original cemetery was small and it was
enclosed with an iron fence and an iron gate in 1869. The fence and
gate were purchased by the great grandfather of Mrs. Christine
Mosely, a present member of this church. He was a Mr. Naylor and he
went to Mobile, Alabama to make the purchase at a cost of $500.00.
The date appears on the gate.
In about 1915, when it was necessary to
enlarge the cemetery, the fence would not reach around it, so the
other fencing and a larger gate were used. Then when it was enlarged
again in the 1940s the iron gate was taken to Meridian for
safe-keeping, since it was not being used. Jesse Graham took
particular pains to take care of it and keep it protected. Later,
his son Dudley Graham, returned the gate to Union Church in the
hopes that it could be restored and used in some way. The original
iron structure and the beautiful gate with the "Tree of Life" design
is cherished today as a permanent memorial.
During the last decade, $12,000 has been put
into a perpetual care fund. The interest from this fund assures the
upkeep of the cemetery. Trustees who were charged with this
responsibility in the beginning were Axum Sanders, W.B. Keeton, and
Glen Rush. Those serving at present are Charles Smith, Robert B.
Wade, Willard Wilson, Virgil Warren, Marvin Keeton, and Robert C.
A project of repairing, cleaning and
straightening of the markers has been completed. We are proud of
this improvement in the appearance of the cemetery.
HAPPENINGS THROUGH THE YEARS
The memories we have of happenings through
the years, though some are sad, continue to add sweetness to our
lives. We think of the babies who have been baptized here, giving
strength and resolve to the parents and resolve to the parents in
rearing the children; the young folks who have come down these
aisles feeling the unspeakable joy in the new lives they are
beginning; the faith that makes itself known in our hearts as we
have laid to eternal rest those dear to us; and the wonderful day
we've called "Homecomings." The fourth Sunday in June has become
important on the calendars of all of us who have been blessed by the
ministry of the Union Methodist Church. Marriages have not been
frequent in this sanctuary. Several we can mention (surly not all)
are: Dr. Hack Rush and Miss Nealie Hunnicutt, Mr. Lawrence Secrest
and Miss Pearl Graham, Mr. Sanford Graham and Miss Jessie Rush, Dr.
Jim Rush and Miss Sallie Hunnicutt, Mr. Guy Jones and Miss Harriett
Webb, Mr. Bob Poole Smith and Mrs. Pam Davis, William Keeton and
Miss Lisa Jennings. The last wedding was that of Mr. Robert B. Wade
and Mrs. Nelda Tisdale.
Union Church has been designated as a
Memorial Church. This means that should the time ever come when
there are not enough people to keep a active church, the building
will be maintained for such services as funerals, homecomings and
So, for more than a century Methodist have
been at work for God's glory in this section of Kemper County. God
has greatly blessed this church and our prayer is that we will
remain strong and faithful stewarts. As for the seeds that have been
sown in the hearts of our people during these years, we cannot say,
for matters of the heart cannot be measured.
(NOTE): We cannot close this church history
without a special tribute to Mr. W.B. Keeton, a beloved member who
passed away on May 23,1984. His life seemed to center around this
church, and no one will miss him more than the membership of this
church. By unanimous vote we have named the new fellowship hall "The
W.B. Keeton Memorial Hall."
Compiled and prepared by the Kemper County
Historical Association for publication May 5,1994 by the Kemper
P.O. Box 546
DeKalb, Mississippi, 39328