Cedar Creek bids farewell to church

Margaret Gardner, center the church’s longest regular member, sits between Lynn Oswald, left, and her daughter Sara Oswald who attended the church in the 1990’s. | Photos/Barbara Ball

CEDAR CREEK – It was the last Sunday service of the Cedar Creek Methodist Church.

Margaret Gardner, 98, the last remaining active member of the church on Cedar Creek Road, grew up worshiping with her family in the tiny white one-room building that looks very nearly the same, inside and out, on Sunday as it did when she was a child.

Those who know Gardner, know that the Cedar Creek Methodist Church was her heart.

Lifelong Cedar Creek community residents Kelley Lannigan, Jim Chappell and Sandra Jones search through the church memorabilia.

But on May 6, the church was closed with a final service, a ceremony held outside, next to the building, under a canopy. And Gardner was there to bravely bid farewell.

The building, itself, is a treasure, simply furnished as if it was 100 years ago, except with lights.  However, there is no electricity today. There was never any indoor plumbing, and the air conditioning unit was vandalized for its copper piping years ago.

Before the ceremony began, Gardner asked to see inside the church one last time. As a friend pushed her wheelchair up the ramp and into the side door, Gardner took in the room. Touching her hand to her face, she gazed at the pews, the ceiling, the pulpit and the piano. Her mother had played the piano in that room every Sunday morning and had taught her to play.

Finally, Gardner wiped her eye with a crumpled tissue and lowered her head, then looked toward the door. Her friend turned her wheelchair around and wheeled her slowly down the ramp, around the front of the church to a seat next to her sister, Julianna Hendrix, under the canopy, and the service began. It was the last service Gardner would attend on these grounds where generations of Cedar Creek families, her family, had worshiped and were laid to rest in the picturesque rock walled cemetery behind the church.

It had been a vibrant church when Gardner was growing up, but by 2011, the membership had dwindled to a handful as most of the church’s members had died or moved away.

“It was about then that we became aware that our church and the property it sat on was not ours, but belonged to the S.C. United Methodist Conference,” lifelong Cedar Creek resident Sandra Jones said. Still, the few remaining members, including Gardner, fought to keep the doors open, paying the apportionments and maintaining the building and cemetery as best they could.

In June of 2017, the Conference voted to close the church for good. Rev. Kathy Jamieson, a former pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Blythewood and the current Columbia District Superintendent and Secretary to the Cabinet of the S.C. United Methodist Conference, opened the ceremony on May 6, calling it a celebration of the Ministry of Fairfield’s Cedar Creek Methodist Church.

Historian and former church member, Ben Hornsby, Jr. led those assembled in singing “The Church’s One Foundation” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” before sharing the colorful history of both the church and its member families.  He recited tales of the family who lie in the cemetery as well as families who still live in Cedar Creek today.

Former pastors shared past remembrances of their days at the church, as did the current Fairfield Circuit Pastor Rev. Alice Deal.

Lifetime Cedar Creek resident and state champion fiddle player, Jim Graddick, let his fiddle fly with “Glory in the Meeting House.”

After the ceremony, there were cookies and lemonade. Jamieson answered The Voice’s questions about who owns Methodist Church properties.  She said all Methodist churches are owned by the Annual Conference.

“Whether or not they have a trust clause in their deed, every Methodist church holds their property in trust for the Methodist Church,” Jamieson said. There are other relationships that cause the church property to belong to the Conference – paying their apportionment, accepting the preacher that the Bishop sends them. I can’t give you the exact date when that went in to effect, but every Methodist Church property is held in trust for the Annual Conference. It’s part of our polity and our legal system,” Jamieson said. “Legal cases have gone to court when a church tries to break away and even if they don’t have the trust clause, the judge has ruled in favor of the Conference because the church has other ways than the trust clause is connective, such as paying apportionment,” Jamieson explained.

While Gardner and others in the community are not comfortable with the closing, they accept it.

Looking to the future and the preservation of the property, longtime Cedar Creek residents, Bill and Margaret DuBard, are spearheading an effort to repurpose the church.

“We are hopeful,” explained Margaret DuBard, “to make it available for perhaps weddings and musical events or a meeting place for civic organizations.”

Jamieson said the United Methodist Church Conference would also like to see the church and grounds be maintained perhaps as a Cemetery or Historical Association.

But Jamieson insists she doesn’t have power over the property.

“The plan for the future of the property is evolving,” Jamieson said. “Preservation of the building will have to be a community effort.”

Those interested in the preservation of the church property can call Bill DuBard at 750-0710.

Barbara Ball contributed to this article.

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