Back River UMC reflects on 129 years of ministry
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.backriverumc.com.
The Back River UMC building in the early 1900’s before it was burnt down in 1927.