|First Methodist Church, Philadelphia, Mississippi, can be proud of a long and fruitful ministry, which actually spans more than 200 years – from 1823 to the present time.|
The Methodist Church began its ministry in Neshoba County with the establishment of a mission to the Choctaw Indians in 1823, and later became known as Philadelphia Station. Soon after the establishment of our town a lot was secured and a Methodist Church and Masonic Lodge Building were erected on the corner lot where the filling station now stands (Mrs. King sold her property to an oil company and built a smaller house directly behind the filling station).
This places our first church on the west side of the block. In this tiny building a few but faithful people began the work of our church in a small, thriving community. During these years, with no railroads, lights or any modern conveniences to help them, our ministers came, served, and went their ways.
It was the Methodist Circuit rider, strictly speaking, who was a real pioneer preacher of those early days, dating back as far as or before the year 1872. In 1901 the old church and Masonic building was moved away and a new church building erected on the lot where the Citizens Bank now stands. In 1914 the building burned and in 1914 the task of rebuilding the church was under the pastorate of Rev. J.G. Galloway, brother of Bishop Charles Betts Galloway. It was a frame building also, with the auditorium and pastor's study of on the east side. Because there was not sufficient Sunday school room, the quarterly conference, held January 8, 1923, elected the following as building committee for a Sunday School Annex: R.C. Peebles, J.V. Welsh, A. DeWeese, R.V. Estes, J.H. Hester, Mrs. J.F. McCauley, Mrs. Dave Donald, Mrs. Effie Brantley, and L.E. Alford. This committee divided into sub-committees and work began.
Quoting from Ruth P. Rush, "Monday morning, April 2, 1923, about 3 a.m., Brother Alford woke up in the impression as clear as if someone had spoken to him, to ask Dr. Mars to install a pipe organ in the church in memory of his wife, Florence Latimer Mars. Dr. Mars was impressed by the suggestion, but took some time to study over the matter. On Saturday, April 14, 1923, he told Brother Alford what he would do. At a meeting of the Board of Stewards, Trustees, and Building Committee, his proposition was announced. Dr. Mars proposed to install the organ in his wife's memory if the membership would complete the Sunday school rooms and make a brick veneer building of both new and old parts of the church. The decision to accept his plan was unanimous. The brick and frame lumber were donated. A. DeWeese furnished the ceiling, flooring and inside finish. A.J. Yates and J.V. Welsh gave the concrete foundations. J.H. Hester and employees did the painting. Nails, hardware, and plumbing fixtures were donated by the Spivey Hardware Company. Sunday school children contributed more nails. The Methodist retail merchants assumed responsibility for the brick lying. Windows and doors came from G.W. Mars and Family. Members made labor contributions from one dollar down. The pulpit Bible was given by John F. McCauley during a revival. The Missionary Society furnished the lights. The congregation itself raised money for the carpets. The pews and communion table and chairs for the minister came from the Church Board of Stewards.
Since the following summer was very warm, Mr. Jim Dees presented the church with a ceiling fan. Soon after Mr. George Mars gave one. The Board of Stewards gave two more. The choir asked for fans so Mrs. Mitchell presented two to them. At about the same time she gave the chancel cushions. The Missionary Society furnished the thread and material for the table runner and scarf for the pulpit. Mrs. G.E. Wilson embroidered the runner and Mrs. Nannie Welsh the scarf. The Missionary Society also gave the covers for the seats in the choir and table cover for the communion table.
November 1928 was a big occasion for Philadelphia when the Mississippi Methodist Conference met at First Methodist. At the time the membership of the church was over five hundred and had a financial budget of over $8,000. Honorable S.H. Stribling was the oldest member of the church. Andrew Yates and Joe Welsh were still members of the Official Board even though advanced in age.
In 1945, W.H. Mars and G.W. Mars made a gift of $25,000 with the provision that the church raise $50,000. This effort continued in 1954. In February of 1955, following the vote of the congregation, new lots were purchased 5 1/2 blocks east of the former church at the corner of Main Street and Henley Avenue from John Haggard and Earl Lundy. The next month, March 1955, 200 members gathered at the 1 1/2 acre plot of rugged land to transform it from a jungle of trees and matted undergrowth into a cleared lot where the church was to be built. There was $70,000 on hand to begin and the actual construction began in October of 1955. The magnificent new church was built according to the latest trends by William Gully Yates, Sr. and was completed in February, 1957, at a cost of $310,000. Bishop Marvin Franklin presided at the 11:00 a.m. worship service on Sunday, June 30, 1957, officially opening the church.
The lovely new church represented the fulfillment of a dream of long standing for Philadelphia Methodists, and was a result of much planning and arduous sacrifice on part of the entire membership when now numbered 683 full members. The last note of indebtedness on the building was cleared on November 3, 1963.
In 1972, Rev. Norman Boone and the membership began planning for the new Family Life building. This building includes a fellowship hall, kitchen, and full gymnasium. In January 1976, the official opening was held with Bishop Stokes presiding. The building was debt free in January 1990.
Since 1990 the church has acquired surrounding properties that include the Gipson home, Farish home, Tinsley home, and Graves home. Improvements to the properties of First Methodist Church have been on-going over the years; however, the most significant addition to the present structure has been given in memory of Mr. William Gully Yates, Sr. Through the years, the idea of replacing the windows in the sanctuary with stained glass grew into a heartfelt desire of the congregation. Finally, in 1997, a committee, lead by Mrs. Shirley Molpus, was formed to investigate this possibility and later choose to proceed with the project. This committee was dedicated to a dream that one day the doors of the sanctuary would open to reveal the most glorious and inspirational stained glass windows possible. In 1999, this dream became a reality. “The Windows” are now in place. They have transformed the sanctuary into a radiant source of beauty and inspiration. It is hoped “The Windows” will be an inspiration to every person who enters the sanctuary. This tremendous project was constructed by W.G. Yates and Sons Construction Company of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
In September 2009, our church completed a $1,000,000 renovation on the existing Sanctuary and Education Building. The 50-year-old heating and air condition system required continuous repairs and needed to be replaced. Asbestos in the original ventilation system necessitated it being completely removed. Our congregation voted to update to a more efficient system. The Trustees led our church through this incredible undertaking. We only had to be out of the Sanctuary for two Sundays. The Education Building was unusable for about 12 weeks. The loan for this renovation was paid off in January of 2015 leaving the church debt free. Since 2014 the Stokes and Leach properties have been purchased.
As of July 1, 2023, we became a part of the Global Methodist Church Denomination, and our name went back to the earlier designation, First Methodist Church.
What a wonderful heritage we have here at First Methodist Church! What a debt of gratitude we owe to those who have served this church so faithfully during their lifetime and are no longer with us. The small group, which met years ago to form our first church, had faith and they kept faith with their vision, themselves, and their God. So it has been down through the years. Yes, we are a continuing miracle.
– Credited to Research conducted by Carolyn M. Fulton