Cedar Creek church returned to its people

Little more than a year after losing their historic Cedar Creek Church to the S.C. Methodist Conference, the church building and grounds are now in the hands of the Cedar Creek Historical Association.

After 274 years, it was announced in June, 2017, that the doors of the historic Cedar Creek Methodist Church would close. A final service was held on May 6, 2018.

The service was touted as a celebration, but for the descendants of the families who had built the little church and attended it all their lives and who had always thought the church belonged to the community, it was a sad occasion.

The closure was the will of the S.C. United Methodist Conference. To the surprise of many in the community, the Conference had owned the church and the property it sits on for some time, though no one knows for how long or how, exactly, the ownership came about.

But as the ceremony closed and the Conference took formal possession of the church, Bill DuBard, Raymond Hendrix, Sandra Jones and John Fogle were already formulating plans to take the church back. They formed the Cedar Creek Historical Association in hopes of bringing ownership of the church and property back under local control, DuBard told The Voice.

Last month they and others accomplished that formidable mission.

“We are delighted,” DuBard said, “to announce that the church and church property have been deeded to the Historical Association by the S.C. United Methodist Conference. Our mission,” he said, “is to identify, honor, protect and preserve historical religious and cultural sites, records, structures and items of historical interest and importance in the Cedar Creek Community.”

To that end, there is much to do, for the church is a treasure chest of history.

Sandra Jones remembers growing up in the church with descendants of other families who settled Cedar Creek hundreds of years earlier. But In the last century, when the invention of cars helped people attend churches outside of the Cedar Creek area and people began to expect amenities such as youth groups, fellowship halls, gyms, air conditioning and indoor plumbing in their churches, the membership of Cedar Creek Methodist Church dwindled.

“It was about then that we became aware that our church and the property it sits on was not ours, but belonged to the S. C. United Methodist Conference,” Jones said. Still, the few remaining members, including Margaret Gardner, then in her 90’s, fought to keep the doors open, paying their apportionments and maintaining the building and cemetery as best they could.

“Whether or not they have a trust clause in their deed, every Methodist church holds their property in trust for the Conference,” Cathy Jamieson, former pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Blythewood, and now the Columbia District Superintendent, 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 policy and our legal system,” Jamieson said. “Sometimes with old buildings the trust clause isn’t clear, but 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.  The Conference owns the buildings,” Jamieson explained.

The members wondered what would become of the building that had been a fixture of the community centuries.  Would the SC Conference give the building back to the community?  And if they did, how would the community fund the upkeep of the structure?

Although money was held in trust by the Conference for the preservation of the cemetery, Jamieson said there was not enough money for the preservation of the building so that would have to be a community fundraising effort.

Cedar Creek residents would need to figure out a way to pay for the upkeep of the church if the Conference returned it to them.