LEWES — Four African-American churches make up the Lewes United Methodist Charge in the Lewes-Belltown-Rehoboth Beach community.
The following is a history of each one of those churches.
Israel United Methodist Church, Lewes, was founded in 1840 and rebuilt in 1890. The present building was constructed in 1916. Israel was first affiliated with Harmony United Methodist Church, then became a part of the Rehoboth Charge in 1894. Minutes state that the church was rededicated on Sunday, April 20, 1890.
A cornerstone laying took place on Sunday, October 12, 1890. In April 1916, a rally was held, the purpose to build a new church. A cornerstone laying was held on Nov. 5, 1916. In 1928 Israel became a part of the charge with St. Paul in Lewes.
In 1941, a vestibule was added. A new addition was built in the fall of 1948. The Methodist Men were organized in 1949.
The new Hammond organ was installed in March 1959. The doors, along with new pews and pulpit furniture ,were dedicated in 1060. The current Lewes Charge became a reality in 1966, when Israel united with the former John Wesley, St. Paul, and Mt. Pleasant Unit. In the spring of 1974, the third remodeling celebration was held. The front annex and restrooms were completed at this time. Other improvements include a stone wall, a pavement, and an outside lighting system.
The recognition of the church school began on Oct. 1, 1989.
The history of the church, which is now the Faith United Methodist Church, between 1884 and the early 1900s is very scant. Supposedly, there are records, old Bibles and other documents that can fill in the missing years, but these have been misplaced.
The idea of a church building for the black community of Rehoboth Beach was conceived well over 100 years ago. But Elijah Burton with trustees Henry Little and Thomas Harmon of the Burton’s Chapel Methodist-Episcopal Church sought to improve and enlarge the church. Elijah Burton deeded plot of land “in trust for the said church and their successors in office forever.” The original deed dated Aug, 22, 1884, states in detail the land that Elijah Burton gave the church.
“All that certain tract piece or parcel of land situate lying and being in Lewes and Rehoboth Hundred Sussex County and State of Delaware on the north side of Rehoboth Avenue near the Depot beginning at a corner of the lands of the said Elijah Burton and running a north course on the line of lands of William A. Dodd and the said Burton at a distance of two hundred and eight feet to a cedar post.
“Thence turning and running a west course on the lands of the said Burton a distance of two hundred and ten feet to a cedar post. Thence turning and running a south course on the lands of the said Burton a distance of two hundred and eight feet reaching said Avenue and a cedar post on said Avenue.
“Thence turning and running an east course with the fence on said Avenue a distance of two hundred and ten feet a cedar post and place of beginning: containing forty-three thousand six hundred and eighty square feet of land. It being part of a tract of land owned by the said Elijah and given by him to the said trustees of the said church and their successors in office for the sole use and benefit of said church forever.”
John Wesley had its formal beginning in 1873. One could conclude prior to that time, members met to praise the Lord in individual homes or wherever possible. The first church was located about one and one-half miles down the road from its present building, going toward Lewes, on the Marvel farm. This church was called “John Wesley Episcopal Church.”
As recently as 1974, a part of the church was still visible. To attend church, the members had to walk or go by horse and buggy.
There is not any record of colored churches in the Methodist Episcopal Church until 1863. The Delaware Conference consisted of 20 churches that were founded prior to the organization of the conference. Two of the original churches were Wesley Chapel in Slaughter Neck (1853) and St. Paul in Milford (1857). While both towns are nearby and appear close to current-day members, attending them in the 1800s would have meant several days of travel.
Land was donated in Belltown by John Henry Bell and a second church was built in 1908. A parsonage was built on the opposite site of Church Lane beside a vacant lot. During that same year, the church became a part of the Delaware Conference, 108 years after the General Conference authorized the ordaining of colored men as deacons, and only 40 years after the first Negro was officially represented in the General Church. That year — 1908 — the conference was held at Zoar in Philadelphia and became part of the Nassau Charge. The bishop was Earl Cranston, pastor was the Rev. Malachi Raison, and the local pastor was Brother Clifton Paynter. The Rev. Raison is the first recorded pastor of Nassau Charge. He served this congregation from 1910 through 1912.
In 1942, membership decided that a new church was needed, and ground was broken at the present site. During the pastorate of the Rev. Clarence W. Bagwell, this church was built and consecrated in 1946. After 38 years of holding services at the old church, members and friends were led by the Rev. Clarence W. Bagwell across Church Lane to the new church, the present site. The church was incorporated on Jan. 20, 1958. The previous site now serves as a parking lot.
Through the efforts of the organizations and the members, the church was able to burn its mortgage in 1958, under the leadership of the Rev. James O. Ingram, both the Rev. Bagwell, District Superintendent at the time, returned for the celebration.
The church merged with the Peninsula Conference in May 1965. The church remained a part of the Nassau Charge and began joint communion with the former Mt. Pleasant Church in Rehoboth the following year, July 1966. The church was changed to the Lewes Charge in 1974. The Lewes Charge included St. Paul, Israel, and Mt. Pleasant. Joint Sunday morning services began in 1975.
Under the religious leadership of the Rev. Albert I. Dredden, a baptismal for members of all of the charges in the charge was held at Lewes Beach in May 1980.
It was during the pastoral tenure of the Rev. George Radway that the members of John Wesley United Methodist Church, along with the other members of the charge, helped to build a new parsonage. It was located on the north side of Israel church and was dedicated on January 5, 1986.
When the state of Delaware elected to upgrade the main highways in the area, the old parsonage was sold and moved to its new location in Lewes.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, formerly a Methodist Episcopal congregation, is located on Fourth Street in Lewes. The church site was purchased on Nov. 28, 1882, from Louisa R. Maull, and the church was erected that year. Led by Charles Dunning, Sr., and Charles Stewart, Sr., the idea of establishing a Methodist Church for a Black congregation in Lewes inspired others to join the effort.
The first pastor was the Rev. J.E.A.D. Grisby, who served until 1884.
Additional land was purchased from Chauncey P. Holcomb on Oct. 13, 1896, and the church was remodeled in 1930 and again in 1955.
A joint meeting was held before the merging of Israel with St. Paul’s on Monday night, March 26, 1928. James Wright served as chairman and Clarence P. Norwood as secretary. Election was held by ballot vote. The vote was unanimous for the merger, and Israel Church, which was formerly connected with the Trinity Charge, combined with St. Paul’s to form the Lewes, Charge.
In April 1966, the congregations of St. Paul’s, Israel, John Wesley, and Mt. Pleasant Methodist Churches met to approve the merging of all four churches into the Lewes Nassau Circuit.
In 1982, a unanimous vote resulted in the merger of the Israel Church, formerly connected with the Trinity Charge, with St. Paul’s.
In April 1996, the congregations of St. Paul’s, Israel, John Wesley, and Mt. Pleasant Methodist Churches met to sanction the merging of these four churches into the Lewes Nassau Circuit.