Persons UMC celebrates 175 years

Published 12:04 pm Saturday, September 28, 2013


DREWRYVILLE—Persons United Methodist, whose roots go back more than 300 years when Virginia was a colony of England, celebrated 175 years of established history last week, with more than 100 members, former members and visitors attending.

“It was a nice service,” said Mark Person of Richmond. Person is treasurer of the church and a direct descendant of its founder, John Person.

Little is known about the actual beginning of the church. However, it is known that Persons Church was on the St Luke’s Parish in Smithfield. St Luke’s Episcopal Church is the oldest standing Episcopal church in the United States. John Person was a vestryman at St. Luke’s in 1731.

Also known is that Persons Church began as an Anglican Church, next Episcopal and then Methodist, when the circuit riders came through in the early 1800s.

Members today date the church from 1838, when it became a Methodist-Episcopal Church.

On display during the anniversary service was a bible donated to the church on June 19, 1938, by former Virginia governor, Colgate W. Darden, and his wife, Constance du Pont Darden, as well as another bible left there by one of the circuit riders in 1898. The inscription on the inside cover of this bible notes that it belongs to “Persons Methodist-Episcopal Church and the date, 1898.”

Person said the church plans to have the well-worn bible refurbished some time soon.

Following the morning service, conducted by Pastor Michael Baugham, a covered-dish luncheon was served on the grounds, a tradition that goes back more years than anyone can remember.

The tiny frame church, which seats no more than 100, was built in 1903, one year after fire destroyed the former building, which had been built on a sacred Indian site and whose doors had been open since 1838, according to its history.

Legend has it that worshipers were standing around talking after a service when they noticed a spark from the chimney of the wood-burning stove land on the roof and immediately ignite the shingles.

Nothing could be done; there was no water nearby, as Persons Millpond was more than a mile away and fire companies were too far away to help. Members could only stand by and watch their beloved church burn to the ground.

A few items were saved, including a handmade silver service from England, the hand-hewn lectern, a Victorian love seat, a few chairs and some of the pews.

Despite its unknown beginnings, the church has an impressive history since 1838.

Letters of recognition and congratulations have been sent from the Queen of England and President Barack Obama. Dozens of prominent citizens have been members there, including Dr. George Musgrave, Dr. Benjamin Bryant and former Southampton County Commissioner of Revenue, Joseph Simmons Gilliam.

Other names such as Westbrook, Ricks, Ellis, Francis, Harrison, Vick, Rawls, Worrell, Grizzard and Clark, as well as many others are on the rolls as members.

Today, although the church is not as much of a hub of activity as it was more than 100 years ago, when horse and buggies and carts surrounded the church, there is still activity there. Services are still held twice monthly and special services like Christmas and Easter always fill the sanctuary.

Person said the church is pursuing to get a historical landmark status with the State of Virginia and an historical highway marker as well.