If Roberta Kimball hadn't been searching for information about her long-departed great-grandmother, Havre de Grace United Methodist Church might not be celebrating a 200th anniversary of Methodism today.
"I'd been looking for one great-grandmother, trying to find her parents," said Kimball. "It started out with family genealogy and kept going. And then I found all this information. It really meant somethingto me."
What Kimball found was a 1791 record, called a circuit book, in the archives at Baltimore's Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, wherethe Methodist movement in the United States began.
"The circuit book showed the Rev. William Colbert came once a month to preach in Havre de Grace -- confirmation that we had a Methodist society here that far back," Kimball said.
The congregation of Havre de Grace United Methodist Church had already started plans to have a 150th anniversary celebration when she brought the news of the entries in the circuit rider's travel notebook.
"It was so exciting the day she came in," recalled the Rev. Kenneth R. Dunnington, who leads the Havre de Grace United Methodist Church congregation. "If it hadn't been for her work, I don't know; we would have been celebrating 150 years."
The 800-member congregation began its celebration Friday with a banquet at the Bayou Restaurant that included five of the six living formerpastors of the church.
As part of today's festivities, Bishop Joseph Yeakel of the Baltimore Annual Conference of the United MethodistChurch will attend the church's service. In addition, the Annapolis Brass Quintet will perform at 7 p.m. in a special concert. (Tickets are $10 and available at the door.)
Next weekend, the church also will mark the 90th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of thepresent sanctuary, Dunnington said.
"At the time this church started, there was nothing else to do but go to church," Kimball said. "It was a community center. There weren't all these fancy activities atschools. Your family went to church, and you married someone you metat church and church was the life of the community."
As evidence,she points to her own great-great-grandparents, whom she found a record of in her research.
"I found her and her husband in the donations records; she donated $1 and he donated $5; in 1895 that was a significant amount of money," she said.
Kimball also found that Havrede Grace once was the site of a "camp meeting." About 1,000 tents were pitched in the Havre de Grace and Oakington areas.
Dunnington said the congregation, which has met on five different sites over the past 200 years and had three name changes as the Methodist Church itself evolved, continues to have a strong influence in the community.
"When people come back for high school reunions, they come to church," said Dunnington, noting that the buildings of the Havre de Grace United Methodist and nearby St. John's Catholic Church have been the dominant sites in the city's skyline for years. "It's interesting to see how this church influenced the community."
Today, the church sponsors missionaries, Scout meetings and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and is a Red Cross emergency and disaster site. The congregation's latest outreach effort is aimed at improving literacy.
Proceeds from the Annapolis Quintet Concert will go toward an adult literacy project.
Church members, working with Harford Community College, havereceived training to help people with literacy problems, he said. The goal is to have the church become a literacy center in the city.
"From our beginnings in England our church has stressed service to others," he said. "For us today this celebration means continuing the mission that started here more than 200 years ago."