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Hoping to restore a historic church building

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The Bible presented to the church in 1939 by Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Taylor.

A centuries-old, well-worn Holy Bible sits on the pulpit at the former Union Methodist Church on Union Road outside of Rutherfordton. Beside the oversize Bible, a gift to the church from Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Taylor in 1939, are several hand held paper fans depicting Jesus as the good Shepherd most recently used at the May 16 Memorial Day service inside the church building. The fans were a necessity on many hot summer Sundays.

The white framed wooden church is in bad need of painting and some structural repairs are going to be needed if the building remains stabilized.

But since Union Methodist hasn't been a church building since 1970 when the two remaining members removed their names from the roll, a group of individuals have taken an interest in the repair work in order to maintain the historical and spiritual value of the property.

A member of the First United Methodist Church in Rutherfordton, Bourne is among those interested in painting the building.

The church first met in a log building that was founded in 1846. Members of the church actually owned the property since 1815 and eventually built the present facility.

Long ago the church trustees recorded a deed to start a church cemetery with stipulations a 90 square foot piece of property was to be used to erect the church building. The church building was dedicated on July 1, 1889.

Before the church eventually closed, numbers began to dwindle through the years as members began attending and joining more modern churches with larger congregations and programs, Bourne believes.

Two front doors take visitors inside the former building, one door on the left and one on the right. There are six to eight steps to the doors.

Once inside the building visitors immediately notice rows and rows of old undamaged church pews where as many as 200 people once worshiped together. An out-of-tune old piano sits in the right hand corner in the front of the church where no doubt great songs of faith were played on the piano with the congregation singing the Methodist hymns.

Other than the annual Memorial Day Service each third Sunday of the year there are no services held there. The 2020 Memorial Day was canceled due to the global pandemic, maybe for the first time in its history.

The property is designated as abandoned and no longer the property of the Methodist Conference of Western North Carolina.

Just over a month ago on Sunday, May 16 approximately 20 people attended the Memorial Day service and decorated more than 120 gravesites in the cemetery adjacent to the building. Some of the graves along the tree line at the back of the cemetery are marked with unidentified tiny stones.

Of those attending the service, Bourne said 13 had descendants buried in the cemetery.

Bourne himself visited a gravesite of a couple he and his wife met in the early 2000s when they came to Rutherford County.

Inside the church building on May 16 Dr. In-Young Lee, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Rutherfordton led the Memorial Day Service. Traditionally the pastor of the Rutherfordton congregations leads the annual Memorial Day service, Bourne explained.

"People just told their stories," Bourne said of the 60-minute memorial service. Among those attending was a 94-year-old former church member, brought to the service by family members.

At the end of the service Dr. Lee asked everyone to gather outdoors and hold hands for the final benediction.

"Even the 94-year-old woman was able to hold hands and the pastor led the benediction. It was good," said Bourne.

People came from Atlanta, Georgia and the Carolinas for the service.

Bourne and a few others are interested in preserving the church building although there are no definite plans for the building.

The interested persons hope to have the building painted which could cost approximately $7,000 with a few other added improvements.

There's a small fund at the Methodist Church in Rutherfordton to help with the painting but there is a long way to go before enough money is raised.

"If we could get it painted, it could stabilize the building for many years," Bourne said.

Since Bourne first announced plans to raise money to paint the building, Taska Kegley of Rutherford County has come forward with plans for a fundraising event.

"It will be on July 24 at Kimbrell's parking lot in Forest City," Kegley said. Hours are from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m.

The fundraiser will include a large community wide yard and bake sale with all proceeds going to the restoration/painting project.

Kegley is a descendant of several people who were laid to rest in the cemetery. Some of her descendants are buried in the graves simply marked with flat stones, others are marked by monuments with their names, Kegley said.

She believes people will come to the fundraiser in order to keep the historic old building still standing on the grassy hillside off Union Road.

"There are so many family connections. You can read the history on the tombstones," she said.

Today's visitors to the old church property might be reminded of the white wooden church in the popular television series, The Waltons, except for its two front doors. The pews, piano and the pulpit have been protected by the tin roof.

"If someone wants to be buried here, they must have a descendant of those buried in the cemetery," Bourne said standing in the cemetery.

The care of the cemetery is in the hands of Robin and Boyce Wilson. They receive some financial assistance from the Methodist Church for supplies but have a strong passion for the cemetery and its care. She, too, has descendants buried in the cemetery.

Bourne said she does a marvelous job caring for the property.

Before leaving the property after visiting there recently, Bourne looked back over the old Union Methodist Church and reminisced about the May 16 Memorial Day.

"It just gives me chills...hearing their stories and talking with them," he quietly said.

If interested in helping raise funds or to donate, call the Rutherfordton Methodist Church at 828-287-3704 or send an email to: pcraft@fumcrutherfordton.org

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