Randolph Church Marks 190th Anniversary

by Elsie Walker

 

Tenacity and love are woven into the history of Millbrook United Methodist Church. The church, which is located at 246 Millbrook Avenue, Randolph, marks its 190th anniversary this month.  Longtime member, Pat Briant of Randolph, recalled a story regarding the building of the church.  Wood had been secured for the building, but the wood was not seasoned and a kiln was built in which to dry it.  The church hired someone to do the careful process.  The worker had a bit too much apple jack and all the wood burned.  Undaunted, the congregation took horses and buggies to Easton, Pennsylvania to get wood, which was not an easy trip in those days.  That spirit of tenacity is still part of the congregation’s spirit.  Briant noted that in 2014 a storm the day before Sunday services caused a huge tree in front of the church  to fall on the electrical wires, knocking out all power to the church.  Regardless of the situation, the congregation was not going to miss Sunday service and so held it on the front steps of the church with the congregation singing hymns acapella. Loving fellowship is found in this congregation which worships every Sunday at 9:45am guided by Pastor Holly Paul.  Also, its love flows to the local community through various outreaches.  Now, as Millbrook United Methodist Church prepares to celebrate its anniversary, Briant shared more of its history, some fond church memories, and what the church is doing to mark its 190 years.

In sharing about the church, Briant noted that her family has “deep roots” in it.  Her mother and father met via the church’s youth group.  Both she and her mother were baptized at there.  Her mother was its organist for a while. Briant shared that her aunt, Mary Briant, was Sunday School Superintendent and “was on every committee there was”.  Mary Briant also wrote a poem about the church at the time of its 100th anniversary in 1933.

To get an idea of how the church on Millbrook Avenue came to be the church we see today, Briant shared a historical look at it, written by Alonzo Searing. In summary, it shares that the first account of any established place of Methodist worship in Randolph Township dates back to 1799.  The worshippers met in a variety of places:  first in a large two-story frame house, then in a barn complete with animals in their stalls, and finally, when it was determined most worshippers lived in the Millbrook area, they began meeting in the old schoolhouse which was built by Calvin Lawrence.  

About 1831, it was decided that a church be built on the hill overlooking “the village”, and on April 25, 1832, property was purchased on which to erect the church. (This was the project where the kiln caught fire, the wood burned and more had to be secured.)  The resulting church building was “30 X 38 feet in size with 16-foot posts and arched ceiling overhead and a gallery in the west end.  The seats were made of plain pine boards, with one aisle in the center and the church warmed in the winter by one large square wood stove.  The church was completed on or about the 28th of June in 1833, and was dedicated to the service of God,” notes Searing’s work.  

 In 1852, the church was remodeled.  Two aisles replaced the single one.  More comfortable seats were purchased and installed, and the roof was shingled.  The total cost was $435.75.  Later in 1899, since many worshippers lived a distance away and traveled by horse, church officials bought a strip of land, and a stall horse shed was built by W. S. Dalrymple.  

From 1912 – 1960, the church saw more changes to its building as the congregation grew and prospered.  “need for more Sunday School room made it necessary to raise the church in order to place a room below the main church section.  The outside work was completed in 1912.  Inside steps leading to the main section were completed in 1914,” notes Searing’s history.  More property was purchased in 1917, and a parsonage was completed by 1922.  An addition to the church was added in the mid 1950’s and the sanctuary was redone and dedicated in 1960.  Recently, the church fellowship hall was renovated.

There are other elements to its history.  With pride, the church can say it was the “Mother Church” from which three other churches took root.  Outreach has also been important to this church, and it continues to help in various ways.  “ We did have a few volunteers that worked at the Trinity Lutheran  soup kitchen and we still support them with weekly items for their pantry….we collect school supplies in August for the Fernbrook School in Randolph.  We also support the Randolph Thanksgiving basket program,” noted Briant.  Also, for many years, the church has sponsored Boy Scout troop #166.  

Briant also shared her own fond memories of the church.   She recalled as a child, looking forward to  the church fairs, the highlight of which was riding on an antique fire truck.  The truck didn’t go on the road but drove up on property behind the church.  For children, riding on that truck was sheer joy.   Briant also recalled the rummage sales the church used to have twice a year (pre-covid).  Everyone in the church who could, would come out to help.   It was “more fun getting it ready” than the actual sale itself, Briant recalled.  For 25 years, on Wednesday evenings in July, the church had worship under the sky in one of the parishioner’s backyards.  “It was always well attended and the parishioner also happened to be a very good baker and always put on a spread for the attendees following the service .  This went on until the pandemic and then stopped” shared Briant.

Now, the church looks forward to its 190th anniversary celebration which will take place on June 25th.  There will be a service at 1pm. Local township people and politicians have been invited.  A letter from Senator Mikie Sherill , who cannot attend the event, will be read.   Refreshments will be shared in the church’s newly renovated fellowship hall.  There, people will also see some pieces of history which found their way back to the church.  When the addition was put on in the mid-1950s, a stained class window (circa early 1900s) was taken down; it was purchased by a family in the church.  That family moved, but in later years, after the death of the parents, their son packaged the window and donated it back to the church.  That window will be hung in the fellowship hall.  Another historical item which has been donated back to the church is a pew from 1852, pre-dating the Civil War. It should also be noted that the church has gravestones in its cemetery that date back to the Civil War era, 1883.

Looking at its 190 years, what best sums up the history and spirit of the church is the first stanza of Mary Briant’s open:

Upon this beautiful hilltop

In eighteen thirty-three,

Men were inspired to build, O, God,

A meeting place for Thee.

Mid trials and tribulations

And setbacks hard to bear;

They succeeded in erecting

The little church found there.

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