By Terrilynn Grace West
Churches have existed over time on Ocracoke and address spiritual wellness. If you attended the Easter Sunrise service on the beach, you will have experienced the collaboration between the Assembly of God Church and the United Methodist Church. Next month I will focus on the Assembly of God church. My intention is to give a brief glimpse into the history and service that these important institutions provide on Ocracoke.
The United Methodist church as we know it today on School Road was dedicated July 4, 1943. Stella O’Neal, a native of Ocracoke reports that she was one of the first group of children to be baptized in the new church building.
According to a history written by Philip Howard, “The first record of a church on Ocracoke Island is in 1828 when the Ocracoke-Portsmouth Circuit of the Methodist Episcopal Church was established…Over time two churches were built representing different Methodist organizations… In 1937 the different organizations united to form the new Methodist Church. By 1943 both churches had been dismantled and a new building was constructed using much of the material and furniture salvaged from the older structures… many men and women in the congregation put in actual working hours on the building construction.”
In the present day sanctuary, you will see a hand-made wooden cross on the altar which was made by Homer Howard and painted gold by his wife, Aliph out of salvage from the ship on which the island native James Baughm Gaskill served and lost his life. You will see the dedication on the cross is in memory of James Baughm Gaskill, 3rd mate in the USS Maritime service.
Also, the Bible on the altar, printed in 1633, was given by Dr. and Mrs. T.V. Bennett in memory of their infant son, Fletcher Murdock Bennett. The baptismal font and prayer desk were hand-made by members of the congregation: the font by Mike Riddick and the prayer desk by Lawton Howard. The final merger happened in 1968 when the Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church. (for the entire history article see http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news102603.htm.
Pastor Laura Stern says, “I appreciate the seasons unique to Ocracoke in which the United Methodist Church experiences an opportunity to serve the whole world during the summer season and focus on our local community in the winter.”
Pastor Laura, who studied at Emory School of Religion, said that this last winter the focus on community took the form of a series on encountering God on Ocracoke . She particularly likes the many different backgrounds and walks of life that form the body of Christ in the church.
Talking with several church members and attendees ranging in age from 30 to 80, only a couple of people came from Methodist backgrounds. Other people came from Southern Baptist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, Quaker and Catholic.
I asked, “What brought you to this church?” Howard Bennink, lay leader, said “I wanted to give back to the church which gave so much to my children.” Phil and Jennifer Hamlin, who direct the adult choir, express how important it is to bring the joy of music to honor the Lord.
The church is providing space for a cooperative English and Spanish 1:1 language program which Peter Vankevich has organized. Peter says, “I love the community of the church.”
Being from a Quaker background, I especially find the Taize-Style Service meaningful with its combination of music, meditation, scripture and prayer.
“I continued my family tradition,” says Stella O’Neal who is the president of the United Methodist Women. This group of women provides everything from upkeep of the parsonage and church to community lunches and dinners and the annual November bazaar. In many local shops you can find their cook book. This last Christmas the women raised money for the United Methodist Children’s Home.
Outreach to both the local and wider community takes many forms. There is a special bulletin board located in the entrance of the Sunday school building for people to post community needs. Recently, a visitation afternoon was organized to visit elderly or homebound in the community.
Support to the ministry of the United Methodist General Board of Missions, who work with ex-combatant children in Liberia, takes the form of money, education and participating in work projects. Leslie Gilbert who has served as a Sunday school teacher over the years now is the chairperson of the Administrative Council.
She and many others described the youth programs with enthusiasm. Pastor Laura is writing the Sunday School curriculum which is designed in a creative way: All ages study the same Bible story: the younger children drawing pictures and learning songs, the older children creating a skit, and then acting it out for the younger children. Many teachers help with the morning Sunday school for children 3 years old through fourth grade, and adults. For Bible lessons and fellowship, youth 13 years old and up meet on Sunday evening.
Please see the Bulletin Board page in the front of the Observer for specific times for all religious services on Ocracoke.