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New Winters Chapel AME celebrates 125th anniversary

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New Winters Chapel AME Church will celebrate its 125th Church Anniversary/Homecoming on Sunday, Sept. 20 with the theme “Home is Where the Heart Is.”

Special guests will be Pastor Allen and LaGuardo UME Church at the 11 a.m. service, and Bishop A.J. Valentine and the Lebanon Church of God congregation at the 3 p.m. service. Brother John R. and Miss C. from Gospel Show 98.9 will also be special guests at 3 p.m.

Dinner will be served at 1:45 p.m.

The following history of the church was provided by Pastor Willis L. Orr Sr. and Audrey D. Rhodes, church historian.

New Winters Chapel AME Church is a member of the 13th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Church.

In November 1787, the colored people belonging to the Methodist Society in Philadelphia convened together in order to take into consideration the evils under which they labored, arising from the unkind treatment of their white brethren, who considered them a nuisance in the house of worship and even pulled them off their knees while in an act of prayer and ordered them back to their seats. From these and various other acts of unChristian conduct, we considered it our duty to devise a plan in order to build a house of our own, to worship God under our own vine and fig tree. With great opposition from an elder in the Methodist church (J.M.C.) Richard Allen with assistance from others, erected at his expense a house of worship which was a converted blacksmith shop and named it Bethel: the first church of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Richard Allen was consecrated its first bishop.

In 1841 with 1,211 Methodists and 225 being Negroes, this did leave the need for the balcony at the Methodist Church, during 1846 the Tennessee Conference sent Elbert Allen as an African missionary to Lebanon and he could have been the one who started this church. The question remains unanswered to this day.

On March 11, 1884, J.T. Lowe conveyed to the trustees of Winters Chapel AME Church a lot on which to build a church. It is believed that the church name was adopted from an early member named Winters. The first recorded trustees were Green Wharton, John H. Nichols and Charlie Wynne. On March 17, 1909, the church and parsonage burned. After the fire, the church and parsonage were rebuilt. A lot was sold from the property on March 3, 1915. The trustees of record were Charlie Wynne, W.S. Mills, Andrew Muirhead, Ethel Boyd, Ned Whitley, C.W. Winter, Augusta Caruthers and John Woodford.

In 1916, the church was again lost by fire. After rebuilding in 1924, the church was moved from its Town Creek location because of flooding to Hobbs Avenue (now West Adams Avenue). The former site was sold. The trustees of record were Berry White, W.T. Bernard, Addie Lou Mercer and John E. White. The church had grown to about 56 members.

During the early years the church was heated by two coal stoves. Willie D. Rhodes made sure the church was warm and clean on Sundays. His children helped with those tasks.

As the years passed, so did pastors. One of the most remembered is the Rev. Edward Ronald Strurgis who served 16 years.

Around 1959, the church was using theater seats donated by James E. White. Some members of the senior choir – Annie Bernard, Iola Scruggs, Luevinnie Glenn and Eary White along with Rev. Sturgis – met to discuss ways of improving the condition of the church. Each choir member present donated $100 and began soliciting donations to help with this project. Charlie Seay installed hardwood floors, new lights and paneled the church. The Stewardesses, Dorothy McCullough, Josie White, Addie Lou Mercer and Pearl Glenn purchased blocks and laid them for erection of a fellowship hall. These were left idle for years. In 1974, the Rev. Juanita Payne and the first female pastor in our history was appointed. Rev. Payne taught the hymns of the AME Church to many of the young people, unaccepting of a female pastor, many members worshiped elsewhere.

The Rev. Daniel McCandless was appointed pastor in 1976. Under his administration, Paul Vanhook was hired to complete the fellowship hall and pastor’s study. Most of the members that left under Rev. Payne returned.

In 1984, Janie Rhodes, a former member, returned and long with James and Eary White and Anna Thomas and others padded the pews and installed curtains. At her death, Sister Rhodes left money to the church to be used for parking and a driveway around the church.

The Rev. Payton Simms was appointed pastor in 1986. During the two years of his appointment, the old parsonage was torn down by William Anderson. James and Eary White installed entrance doors. Toney Robinson made candle holders for the church. Rev. Simms installed flags and founded the “Missionary Night in White” program.

The Rev. Eddie L. Sneed was appointed in 1988. At that time he initiated weekly official board meetings and a weekly Bible study program.

The Rev. Pamela Miller appointed in 1991, served two years; the Rev. Ollie Graves appointed in 1994 only served one year. The Rev. Eddie Marshall appointed in 1995 served until he was overcome with illness. The church has use of a van because of the Marshalls.

In 2001, Willis Orr Sr. was appointed. Through his leadership, many things have happened. The name was changed to New Winters Chapel AME. The James E. White Scholarship Fund was created and (there) was a brief fellowship radio broadcast. We enjoy great Sunday School, Bible study and worship services here. The sermons and revivals with Pastor Robert Spickard from Hamilton Chapel in Gladeville has become a tradition here, also.

With much success and constant growth our church has been a part of severe tragedy along with world history in the making. Two months before Katrina hit (the damaging hurricane) that ripped through parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, our church was going through horrendous damages of its own. That is when we launched a campaign to save our church history and facility by creating an extreme makeover. We started out in hopes of a merger with a local church, but without success. Our dream did not die. We sent out letters and asked for contributions once again without much success and our dream still lived on. We lost several members but with a dream still burning we had to move on.

During the Katrina efforts through our church, Pastor Orr was presented with a certificate from Gov. Phil Bredesen called “Colonel Aide De Camp” for his leadership in the community during the crisis.

It was a three-phase process in which members purchased a house adjacent to the church property in 2005 located at 328 West Adams Street. In 2006, phase two included purchasing land which was surrounding the house. Once the church acquired enough property in 2007, members were ready for phase three renovations to New Winters Chapel. During the renovation phase under the supervision of Ron Shannon (the pastor’s steward), along with Pastor Orr, the construction phase began. During 2007, the Nehemiah Nation Committee of New Winters developed under the leadership of Shannon and the guidance of Pastor Orr. A post office box was set up to accept all donations coming in from area pledges and local contributions.

A central heating and cooling unit was installed along with complete new floors, carpets, vinyl flooring and a reconstructed altar and pews. The choir stand was upgraded along with new bathroom facilities. Pastor Orr said the most amazing part of it all is the hand art that was designed by a local artist he knew. Each stained glass window is personalized and represents a family from New Winters Chapel past and present. There was an additional upgrade to the lighting. New chandeliers and a special chandelier in the choir stand were donated to the church. Charlie Shannon is the church electrician who contracted the job. New security lights were added to the outside as well along with a brand new sound system and recording studio put in by Michael Thorne from Thorne’s Audio in Lebanon.

A new sign to officially name the church was donated by the Orr family. Also during reconstruction of the church, members worshipped at the Wilson County Civic League on Market Street in Lebanon. New Winters Chapel was the first in history to worship there as a church.

The church received a letter from Habitat for Humanity of Wilson County to enable them to go pick out new or used building material as needed or decorating supplies through their then-director, Cynthia Todd.

Members held their first worship service back at New Winters Chapel AME Church on Jan. 6, 2008 with special guest Mount Olive AME.

The cornerstone was placed on March 31, 2008 by the Masons of Hartsville Lodge #361. The rededication sermon was delivered by Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie. The sermon text was “What Kind of Church are you Looking For.” 

A generous donation was given to the church by the estate of the late Eary White in June 2008.

On July 25, 2008, One Hundred Men in Black Day was held with the Man of the Year Award going to Richard Allen.

Friends and Family Day was held Aug. 10, 2008 with a gift certificate given to the family with the most members present, the Anderson family.

On their 124th anniversary and homecoming, New Winters Chapel AME members said they were grateful to special guest, Pastor Steven Handy and Pickett Rucker UMC, Pastor Carlos Jones and the New Life Christian Ministries, Nina Jones, Pastor Belita Fite, John R. and Miss C. from the Gospel Show.   

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