Luverne United Methodist Church
(Primary Source: History of United Methodist Church, Luverne, Alabama - Published 1974.)
Luverne United Methodist Church has a long and relevant history. The first sermon preached in Luverne by a Methodist was preached in the Academy by Rev. W. S. Price of Little Oak sometime during the summer or fall of 1889. The Academy was located on the site of the old Luverne Grammar School just above where BB&T Bank is now.
The first Methodist Church of record in the present city limits of Luverne was the Emmaus Methodist Church at Emmaus Cemetery. Before the church was built, services were held in the Academy.
History does not record when the spirit of Methodism first came to this community. However, it is certain that a solid foundation for the growth of the Methodist Church in Luverne was laid long before either the present town of Luverne was incorporated or the present Luverne Methodist Church was organized. A Methodist Church, known as Ammaus (Emmaus) was located on the present site of Luverne (Emmaus) Cemetery, but records of the early church at Emmaus are not available. Even before the present town was founded, a news item from Old Luverne in the Rutledge Enterprise, a newspaper published at Rutledge under the date of January 13, 1888, stated that Rev. Mr. Jones of Brundidge preached at the M. E. Church on Sunday.
There was a large influx of residents from neighboring communities to the new town during the fall and winter of 1888 and the year 1889. The Methodists among the newcomers did not join the church at Emmaus. The records indicate that Rev. W.S. Price, who lived at Little Oak in Pike County, and who had been assigned to the Patsaliga Mission in September 1889, was one of the first Methodist ministers to preach within the corporate limits of the new town of Luverne. He preached during the fall of 1889 in the Academy, which was located on the site of the Luverne Grammar School and which was destroyed by fire in November 1917. The Academy was used as a place of worship by the community in general during 1889, as there were no churches within the town.
The Emmaus Church continued to hold services for a while after the organization of the new church at Luverne. As late as July 1890, Mr. Price conducted protracted services at Emmaus. A short time after that, the Emmaus Church was abandoned and its members became affiliated with the Luverne Methodist Church.
Rev. N.W. Beverly was the first regular pastor of the Luverne Methodist Church, which was then a part of the Rutledge Circuit, in the Union Springs District. Dr. Urquhart was presiding elder of the district at that time. Mr. Beverly preached his first sermon in Luverne on December 29, 1889, in the Academy. On that Sunday evening, the Methodist Sunday School was organized. For several years after its organization, the Luverne Methodist Sunday School met every Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm.
The members of the Luverne Methodist Church experienced a difficult struggle in building the original church. An informal meeting of the members was held in early January 1890 to formulate plans for the erection of a church building on the present site of our church at an estimated cost of $1,000.00. By February 14, 1890, the brick pillars of the church had been built, but for some reason work was suspended shortly after that time. In August 1890, the Luverne Enterprise stated that it had been rumored that work would soon be resumed on the Methodist Church with this statement: "It will be an ornament to a town of double Luverne's size, when it is finished, according to the plans shown by Mr. Folmar."
The Ladies Aid Society, of which Mrs. F.C. McDonald and president, and Miss Lucy Folmar (who later became Mrs. James S. Hawkins) was secretary, sponsored an entertainment in May 1892 at the home of Dr. James E. Kendrick for the purpose of raising money for the painting of the church. In fact, the first church building, when completed, was a very modest frame structure consisting of one large room and and a vestibule. The Luverne Enterprise reported in April 1892 that the Sunday School was in a "flourishing condition." The Sunday School hour was changed from 3:00 PM to 10:00 AM. In July of 1890, the Methodist Sunday School had 76 on roll and an average attendance of about 50. By 1899 there were 190 members on roll.
Soon the "little white church" was splitting at the seams with members and activities. Sunday School classes were held outside beneath trees, some in tents, and others in the nearby parsonage. The wheezy little organ could not carry a tune and the big fat round stove could not keep the bulging membership warm, even at prayer meeting. So it was imperative to build a new church. The members, however, became hopelessly split over where the new church should be built. Some said right where it was; others thought the new church should be built down town where the people were. This divide continued for months.
A new minister, Rev. John H. Williams, came to town and called the people together to consider the building of the new church. To this meeting came a young lawyer and his wife who had recently moved to town. As they walked to church that night, the young lawyer said to his wife, "This church ought to be built! It can be built!"
As the meeting progressed, one after another speaker arose to say why the church could not be built. The "no's" had a strong lead. Then the young lawyer got up and made a motion that the church be built. There was astounded silence then two or three derisive laughs. Nobody would second the motion. But from the middle of the church came a very small, timid voice, hardly audible: "I second the motion."
The young lawyer thought this was some great old sister, strong in the faith, but it was his wife, so he launched into his speech as to why the church could and should be built. When he concluded, everybody started talking at once. The young presiding officer, the minister, in confusion himself, tabled the motion and adjourned the meeting. The meeting was adjourned - to meet around the big warm stove to talk about how the new church could be built.
The money pledged by the members was not collected and put into a lump sum. The Building Committee just began building and, day by day, as the money was needed, a member who had pledged was asked for his amount. When some of the money was pledged, a member said frankly, "I haven't this money now, but I will get it when it is needed." Some who pledged did not have the money then; others borrowed it if they did not have it. The young lawyer pledged $500 and when it was needed, he gave it. So the church was built and there was great rejoicing. It was necessary to place a $10,000 mortgage on the church to finish it. Mr. Bibb Folmar, a member, loaned this amount to finish the church.
The Reverend J.H. Williams was not here long after the initial move was made to build the church. He was succeeded by Reverend R.P. Cochran. It was under Brother Cochran that the church was completed.
For several years, the members just "enjoyed" their church. They rested on their laurels and not much was done about paying off the mortgage. But this did not satisfy some of the builders of the church. Among them especially was Steiner Odom.
Mr. Odom had been superintendent of the Sunday School for some years, having taken over from Mr. Frank Bricken in the little white church. During these early years, the Sunday School under Mr. Odom's able. consecrated, dedicated leadership became known as the "best Sunday School in Southern Methodism." This recognition came from Methodist Headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. It was decided that the mortgage on the church must be paid - and through the Sunday School, as many other things, were being done in the church at this time.
A careful plan was worked out and submitted to the classes. Each class was given a certain amount to raise; beginning with the strong and able Ben Bricken Class of one hundred members, through every adult class, every department, down even to the nursery with the babies under the joyous, loving supervision of Mrs. Guy Folmar. Each class raised its quota - even the babies with their pennies. The mortgage was burned during an informal, but solemn service in the Ben Bricken Assembly Room. This took place during the Reverend R.A. Moody's pastorate.
When the finance committee met at the early time more than forty years ago, they said to each other, "We will build a church to last a hundred years!" It was the wish of every committee member that the Luverne Methodist Church would again burst its seams - not only physically, but burst into the great spiritual beauty in the hearts of its members - blessing these and others far beyond this small town and on into infinity.
TORNADO STRIKES LUVERNE MARCH 6, 1944
The Methodist Church was hit hard. The damage was estimated at about $20,000 (Luverne Journal.)
On May 3, 1944, a revival meeting was held in a huge tent behind the Sunday School building since the church had not been repaired after the tornado. The Reverend R.J. Haskew was the visiting preacher. The Reverend A.H. Vanlandingham was the regular pastor at the time.
Repairs to the church following the tornado were completed in time for the White Christmas Program. The program was held in the main auditorium on Sunday, December 24, 1944.
On March 12, 1944, motion was made and seconded that the trustees of the Luverne Methodist Church be authorized to ask for and accept a donation of $5,000 from the General Board of the Church Extension for rebuilding the church after the tornado. It was reported by the Second Quarterly Conference Report on May 28, 1944, that the Sunday School had raised $11,198.41.
On the evening of February 27, 1949, Bishop Clare Purcell of the Birmingham Area of the Methodist Church preached in Luverne Methodist Church and dedicated the pipe organ during the service. The public was cordially invited through a story published in the Luverne Journal. (The church organ cost $6,000.00 installed.)
The narrow concrete steps to the front entrance was a hazard. They were replaced in September of 1950. Ralph B. Douglass of Norfolk, Virginia, formerly of Luverne, wanted to make a contribution to the church in memory of his mother and father. He asked his sister, Lila Douglass Fundaburk, to find out what was the greatest need at that time. In discussing this with other members of the church, it was decided that the greatest improvement that could be made would be to change the entrance. This work was done by L.D. Liles and Jesse Martin. A plaque was placed to commemorate the gift.
"In loving memory of
Georgia Emma Douglass
Frazier Michel Douglass
This entrance given by their son Ralph B. Douglass