FORT VALLEY -- Fort Valley United Methodist Church will celebrate its anniversary Sunday with special services and a musical event.
The church is 175 years old.
Member Sandra Haga said it’s a quite an accomplishment for Fort Valley UMC to be serving the community and the world for 175 years.
Pastor Doug Mays, who has only been at the church since June, said the congregation has long been concerned and active in the expansion of the gospel and aiding others.
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He said the church has been home to many of Fort Valley’s community and spiritual leaders who have led the church in its commitment to missions and reaching others.
“Because of their support and influence, the depth of concern and action here has happened in better ways than it has at a lot of other places,” he said. “There’s a tremendous history of supporting a variety of missions efforts.”
As an example, Mays said Blue Bird school bus company founder Albert Luce was a member of Fort Valley UMC and other family members have followed suit. He said current member Helen Rhea Luce Stumbo was born in East Africa in Burundi while her parents, George and Willouise Luce, served there as missionaries.
Today, the church’s ministry beyond its own walls includes helping provide Bibles to inmates at the Peach County Jail and support and work with Grace House, Rebuilding Fort Valley, Kinship Care, the Feed Center, Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Fort Valley Cares, the Foundation for Evangelism and others.
Globally, the church is involved with support for almost a dozen missionaries and missions groups.
According to church records and an article published for the church’s centennial in 1940 in The Wesleyan Christian Advocate, Fort Valley UMC began as the Old Pond Church just north of Fort Valley in 1840. With the coming of the railroad and growth of the community, the congregation erected a new building in town in 1847. At the time, it was one of nine churches in the Methodist’s Fort Valley Circuit.
The church completed construction of a new sanctuary at its current location on West Church Street in 1902. Extensive additions and remodeling have taken place since.
Charles Adams moved to Fort Valley in 1962 to establish a law practice and became a member. From his own recollections, stories he’s heard and from a church history edited by Stumbo, he recalls how the late George Culpepper, a superior court judge, lauded the installation of air conditioning in the church in the 1950s. Adams said Culpepper recalled the coming of air conditioning meant an end to oscillating fans whose droning tended to make congregants sleepy and to funeral home hand fans that waved across the auditorium to cool congregants off and combat gnats.
He said the ability to close windows was also a plus because it made the howling of city dogs less disturbing and put an end to bats flying in during evening services, much to the relief of the church’s lady folk and their gentlemen protectors.
Adams also spoke of two times the church’s existence was threatened.
He said during the Civil War the church was taken over and turned into a hospital, housing wounded soldiers in the sanctuary and forcing worshippers to gather elsewhere.
The second occasion was when a tornado struck the building in 1975. Adams said the storm knocked down a church wall before lifting then hitting downtown where it blew out windows and destroyed a cotton warehouse.
He said thankfully a group of children at choir practice at the church were unharmed.
As Fort Valley UMC celebrates 175 years, Mays said he and members are looking to the future.
“I hope we hold to everything good in our heritage and move forward with the same commitment and faith our forbearers had,” he said. “That includes leadership with integrity, a desire to live more and more holy lives and a desire to see as many as possible come to experience peace with God.”
Mays said personally, his greatest satisfaction comes from seeing individuals place faith in Christ and seeing broken families restored.
Anniversary and homecoming celebrations will begin Sunday with a fellowship gathering at 9:30 a.m., followed by a special service at 10:30. The guest speaker will be Bishop James King of the United Methodist’s South Georgia Conference. Following that will be dinner at the church then a musical event at 2 p.m. led by former choir director Alden Winslow.
Reservations for the anniversary meal may be made by contacting the church or visiting its website.
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Address: 301 W. Church St., Fort Valley, Ga.
Leadership: Doug Mays, pastor
Worship: Sunday school 9:45 a.m., worship 10:55 a.m.