Back River UMC re­flects on 129 years of min­istry

The Avenue News - - FRONT PAGE - By: GIANNA DECARLO gde­carlo@ches­

The small unas­sum­ing white church on Back River Neck Rd. in Es­sex hides a rich his­tory.

On Sun­day, October 3, the Back River United Methodist Church cel­e­brated its 129th year in the com­mu­nity with a special ser­vice and home­com­ing potluck.

Pas­tor Donna Nel­son, who has been with the church since 2014, said that ev­ery year, the cel­e­bra­tion is given a special theme.

“This year, it’s all about look­ing back to see how God has been mov­ing in our lives and how much the church here has im­pacted the com­mu­nity. We do make a dif­fer­ence through the var­i­ous pro­grams that we have and this cel­e­bra­tion lets folks know about all we do,” she said.

While the ac­tual church opened in 1888, the church’s story tech­ni­cally be­gins a few years ear­lier, in 1870. Res­i­dents would use the Back River El­e­men­tary School build­ing as a place of wor­ship be­fore they de­cided that they wanted their own stand-alone build­ing that was closer to home. In 1882, plan­ning for the new church be­gan. The build­ing was

of­fi­cially opened and ded­i­cated in the late sum­mer of 1888 when it was used by parish­ioners all over the area. How­ever, tragedy struck when the orig­i­nal build­ing caught on fire and burnt com­pletely to the ground in Septem­ber of 1928. But the con­gre­ga­tion didn’t let this hold them down for long. Within a few months, the church was re­built thanks to the com­bined man­power of the de­voted con­gre­ga­tion.

“They got to­gether and just from March to early Septem­ber, in less than six months, they built a new church,” said Nel­son.

In the 1950’s, a Fel­low­ship Hall and par­son­age was added to the prop­erty. In 2000, many older at­ten­dants found it dif­fi­cult to walk up the many stairs to at­tend ser­vice on the up­per floor. Rather than put in an el­e­va­tor it was de­cided by the church that they to build a new mod­ern build­ing with ev­ery­thing on one floor, the way it re­mains to this day. For decades since, the church has wel­comed hun­dreds of res­i­dents through its doors and is us­ing the an­niver­sary to high­light every­body, from those who just joined the church to those who have been at­tend­ing for over 70 years.

“I see a lit­tle of ev­ery­thing, we have folks that have been in the church since they were in­fants, we have peo­ple who have grown up here, and we have folks who joined re­cently. We have new fam­i­lies com­ing into the area and they’re com­ing here and we’re get­ting to meet them and show them what we’re all about,” said Nel­son. “We’re def­i­nitely be­com­ing more di­verse and we’re start­ing to re­flect the di­ver­sity of the com­mu­nity.”

That di­ver­sity and that com­mu­nity were cel­e­brated at the home­com­ing where mem­bers of the church were en­cour­aged to stand up and share their sto­ries about Back River UMC.

The church will also look back on its years of ser­vice, such as serv­ing as a food pantry from un­der­priv­i­leged res­i­dents and donating Christ­mas and Easter bas­kets to area youths. They have fun as well. Nel­son said one of their most pop­u­lar events are Fam­ily Movie Nights and live mu­sic con­certs. Since Nel­son joined the Back River UMC, she’s brought in mu­si­cal groups to per­form, in­clud­ing a South Gospel con­cert se­ries this year. For ex­am­ple, on Sun­day, October 22, the church will wel­come The Siler Fam­ily for a gospel per­for­mance. All com­mu­nity mem­bers are wel­come to at­tend.

For a full schedule and more in­for­ma­tion about the church, visit www.back­


The Back River UMC build­ing in the early 1900’s be­fore it was burnt down in 1927.

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