Church once divided celebrates its history

October 13, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

The Civil War that divided a nation also divided a small country church in Glenelg, whose Southern-sympathizing parishioners built their own church 1 1/2 miles west of their Unionist brethren. The union of America's North and South was restored after four years of war, but the church remained divided for 100 years.

This Sunday, the Glenelg United Methodist Church will celebrate 135 years of its history, both separated and united.

Most of all, congregants will celebrate the spirit that brought the two divided churches, Westwood Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church and Providence Methodist Episcopal Church, back together in 1961.

"That they would get back together after 100 years of being split, to me, that's miraculous," said the Rev. David Argo, the church's pastor.

Mae Musgrove, who joined the Providence church in 1946, agreed.

"It was difficult for the north and south to get back together," she said, remembering that she and her husband, Raymond Musgrove, were among the early supporters of reunifications.

As those who know the church say, such forward-thinking has set the church apart from many other small churches in the western part of the county.

While many of these country churches now are trying to meet the demands of suburban growth in their areas, Glenelg United Methodist Church met it head-on with a prayer in the mid-1960s.

"We told ourselves that we have faith in the future, that was our theme," Mrs. Musgrove said. The belief was that if they built a large modern church building on Burntwoods Road, the people would come.

Since ground was broken for the new building in 1969, the church has grown from 335 members to 525, started a nursery school that serves more than 100 children and become a place for secular activities.

The church provides a home to a county meal center for senior citizens, extra space for Glenelg High School activities and a meeting place for 4-H'ers, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Pastor Argo estimated that, for every church member who visits each week, two nonmembers visit for one of those other activities.

"One of the things that I like about being pastor of this congregation is that I like the diversity," he said.

Unlike the divided church of earlier times, today's church is a place where differing opinions on everything from politics to church planning are not only tolerated, but welcomed.

"It doesn't matter what you believe, there's going to be someone else here that believes the same thing," Pastor Argo said.

"I think my husband would be amazed to see what we have now and what our church is doing," said Mrs. Musgrove, who will be sharing her memories of Providence church at Sunday's 4 p.m. Heritage Service.

Mr. Musgrove, who died in 1976, was one of a handful of members of Providence church who believed the churches should reunite.

The church was founded Aug. 8, 1859, as the Westwood Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church in honor of its first pastor, Henry C. Westwood.

The original church building was built on Triadelphia Road near the Route 32 underpass. The building now is a private home and an antique shop.

Two years later, the Civil War broke out, and the congregation split on the issue of slavery and consequently the two sides in the war.

The two congregations attempted to meet in the same building, but eventually some members left to form Providence Methodist Episcopal Church.

That building, completed in 1891 -- long after the war ended -- is the home and studio of ceramic artist Tatiana.

Mrs. Musgrove said that she was curious about the churches when she moved to the area in the 1940s with her new husband, whose mother's family attended Westwood and whose father's family attended Providence.

"I asked my father-in-law why we had two churches so close together, and he said, 'One can't get up the hill, and the other can't get down.' "

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