History of Haygood United Methodist Church

175th Anniversary Commemoration

1607 – The First English Settlers

Captain Bartholomew Gosnold was a prime mover behind the formation of the Virginia Company in England.  He, along with gentlemen such as Edward-Maria Wingfield, Robert Hunt, and Captain John Smith, applied for and received a commission from King James I of England to form the Virginia Company and acquire ships and provisions for the journey to the New World.

On December 19, 1606, the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery set sail carrying the intrepid adventurers, 105 men and boys .  Their trip was long and difficult; for six weeks they lay within sight of England before favorable winds carried them west.  Their first landing, May 14, 1607, was at a site which they named Cape Henry.  They erected a cross and thanked God for safe passage.  This site is now within the city of Virginia Beach on the southeast shore of the Chesapeake Bay.  The site seemed too exposed and the party was attacked by natives, so they sailed up the James River looking for land suitable for settlement.  The site they selected, which they named James Cittie in honor of King James I, was chosen for its defensive potential.  Ocean-going navies of the Dutch Republic, France, and especially Spain were a danger at the time.  The site had excellent visibility up and down the James River and a deep water anchorage.  Also no Native Americans were occupying the site at the time.

The island, however, suffered from a number of disadvantages: mosquitoes, swampy conditions, and brackish water made worse by the drought conditions of that summer.  Most of the early settlers died of disease and starvation that first year.  The natives were initially friendly, but within a month the settlers were attacked.  They set to constructing a fort for protection.  Captain Christopher Newport returned to England twice in the following 18 months for additional supplies.

The marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe in 1614 had a somewhat  calming effect on relations with neighboring tribes.  Rolfe was the first tobacco planter in the settlement.  However, Pocahontas died unexpectedly in 1617 on a visit to England with Rolfe and relations with the tribes deteriorated after that.
One of the most eventful years for the settlement was 1619, when three important events took place.  On July 30, the House of Burgesses first met.  This group has the distinction of being the first representative legislative body in the New World.  Of lesser distinction but equal import was the arrival of the first slaves from Angola in Virginia about a month later.  That same year 90 single women arrived, intended as wives for the settlers.

In 1624 the Virginia Company lost its charter and Virginia became a crown colony of the English government.  Jamestown is noted as the first permanent English colony to survive in the New World.

John Wesley and the Beginnings of Methodism

In the town of Epworth, 23 miles north of Lincoln in England, John Wesley entered this world on June 17, 1703.  John was the fifteenth child of the nineteen children born to Susanna and Samuel Wesley, a minister of the Church of England.

Wesley entered Christ Church, Oxford, in 1720 and was ordained deacon in 1725.  At this time he read extensively and actively sought God’s law and religious truths, developing his own Christian faith throughout his life.  The year 1729 marks the beginning of Methodism.  John’s younger brother, Charles, with some fellow students, formed the “holy club” at Oxford.  Because of their methodical habits they were derisively called “methodists.”

Wesley left for Savannah, Georgia, in the American colonies in 1735 where he began the first Sunday School.  His experience, unfortunately, was an unhappy one and he felt he had been a failure in his effort to convert the Native Americans and deepen the spirituality of the colonists.  He returned to England three years later.

At this point, Wesley turned to the Moravians, having experienced and admired their spiritual strength.  At a Moravian meeting in Aldersgate Street, London, on May 24, 1738, he heard a reading of Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans and wrote “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”  This event can truly be considered the beginning of his ministry.  He began to preach of the importance of faith for salvation and the miracle of God’s grace, free for all people.  Unwelcome in the local churches, Wesley and his followers preached open air sermons which were very successful.  He even used his father’s tombstone in Epworth as a pulpit.  Wesley separated from the Moravians and formed his own society: the Methodist Society in England.
The new society was persecuted by the leadership of the Church of England, being called heretics, fomentors of religious disturbances, fanatics, and opponents of the Church of England.  The Methodists did most of their work among the poor and needy, and Methodists became leaders for social justice issues such as prison reform and abolition. He felt the established church had failed in its duty and that many of its clergy were corrupt.

Feeling the need for meeting places, the Methodists began establishing chapels, first in Bristol and London.  So successful were his societies that he had difficulty staying in contact and managing them.  He drew up a set of general rules which became the nucleus for the Book of Discipline and still remain in effect.

General Rules: It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation.  First: by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind…; Secondly: by…doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all…; Thirdly: by attending upon all the ordinances of God.

Methodism spread to America in the later half of the 18th century.  Wesley ordained ministers for Scotland and America, clergy who had power to administer the sacraments.  Dr. Thomas Coke was consecrated to be the superintendent in America and he was given authority to ordain others in the Methodist Episcopal Church.  John Wesley advised his English followers to remain in the Church of England and he himself died within it.

Methodism in America

Methodism in America began as a lay movement in the 1760’s.  In Maryland and Virginia, Robert Strawbridge, an immigrant farmer, organized congregations; Phillip Embury and Barbara Heck worked in New York; and Captain Thomas Webb was instrumental in organizing in Philadelphia.  In order to strengthen these promising beginnings, John Wesley sent two lay preachers, Richard Boardman and Joseph Pilmore, to America in 1769.  Two years later he sent Richard Wright and Francis Asbury.  Asbury was to become a great leader for American Methodism.  In 1773 the first conference of Methodist preachers was held in Philadelphia.  These lay pastors were not able to administer the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, and parishioners needed to receive these sacraments at the local Anglican parish church.  At the famous Christmas conference in 1784, Dr. Thomas Coke was joined by some sixty preachers in the Methodist Episcopal Church in America.
In the first part of the nineteenth century a religious development known as the “second great awakening” led to revivals and camp meetings where sinners were brought to conversion.  Lay pastors and circuit riding preachers were important in knitting together these new converts.  This style of organization suited Methodists well, and many more lay pastors were added as the congregations grew.  A circuit riding preacher could serve several congregations in the same general area.

Methodism in the Tidewater Area

The Reverend Robert Williams, a native of England, was the first Methodist to preach in Norfolk.  There are varying accounts of this event.  One maintains that, after arriving in Norfolk in 1769, Williams walked up Main Street to a house advertised for rent and began singing, attracting a crowd.  The good preacher was lodged in the home of a kindly local woman whom he converted to Methodism.  Another account states that Williams arrived in 1772 and began singing on the courthouse steps.  Whatever the true story, Williams was not well received in this port city because his sermons were peppered with hellfire and damnation.  He moved to Portsmouth and began a Wesley Society which eventually became the modern Monumental United Methodist Church.

Reverend Joseph Pilmore is credited with establishing the Methodist Church in Norfolk shortly after William’s visit.  In 1775 Reverend Francis Asbury visited the area and at that time the Norfolk congregation was worshipping in an old playhouse.  This congregation erected a new structure on Cumberland Street in 1802 and, several church buildings later, is now known as First United Methodist Church, the mother church of Methodist congregations in the Norfolk District.

By 1832, the year Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church was established, several Methodist churches existed in the Tidewater area.  In the area of the modern city of Virginia Beach Methodist churches were concentrated in the southern area near Back Bay: Nimmo, Tabernacle and Charity Methodist churches had established congregations.  In Chesapeake, Oak Grove and Hickory were located in the southern part of that city.  Norfolk, of course, had First Methodist, then known as Cumberland Street Methodist Church, but in addition, both Wesley and Zion existed at that time.  Monumental Methodist in Portsmouth, as mentioned above, was active at the time as well.

Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church, 1832

Much of the information about the early years of our church comes from a talk given in 1984 by Mrs. Alvis Oliver, whose sources included her mother-in-law, Alice Oliver, and Ida Shelton James.  Little is known about Methodism in this area of Virginia Beach at the time of the founding of our congregation.  A traveling preacher visited the area quarterly, but his name is unknown.  The area he served was so vast, it is said he preached every day and did not even have time to stop and do his laundry.  He would wash his shirt in a stream, hang it off the back of his buggy, and put it on when he reached his destination.  He received an annual salary of $72.00.

The first church building on our site was a small unpainted wooden building.  The congregation chose the name “Ebenezer” which is taken from 1Samuel 7:12-13 and means “stone of help.”  The structure served for over 30 years, through the time of the Civil War, and was not replaced until 1868.

About ten years after Ebenezer opened its doors, the neighboring Episcopal church, Old Donation Episcopal, closed.  Old Donation members were drawn to Ebenezer (Haygood) because the nearest Episcopal church in Kempsville was quite far away. The Old Donation structure was burned in a forest fire.  The present Old Donation church building dates from 1916.

The Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1844

Although John Wesley was an opponent of slavery and most early American Methodist leaders shared this opposition, in America tensions arose in the church because of the slavery issue.  The issue was put aside for many years, but in 1844 at the General Conference, pro- and anti- slavery factions clashed.  The immediate problem was one of the bishops, James O. Andrew, who had acquired slaves through his marriage and refused to free them.  The Conference voted to suspend the bishop but dissidents opposed to the suspension drafted a Plan of Separation, separating Methodist conferences in slaveholding states and leading to the formation of their own ecclesiastical structure.  This prepared the groundwork for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  Of course, Ebenezer, being in the Virginia Conference, became a part of this new structure.  Much bitterness grew between the northern and southern Methodists between this time and the advent of the Civil War.

That war and the ensuing post-war period saw the membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, fall by two-thirds.  Many church buildings were damaged or destroyed.  Many clergy were killed or wounded in the numerous battles of this war.  Over the next fifty years, however, the church regained its vitality and its membership grew to more than two million.

Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1868

For over thirty years, the original little wooden church structure served the Ebenezer community well.  But in 1867 the congregation saw the need for a new building.  This sanctuary, completed in 1868, had a single central aisle, with men sitting on the left side and women on the right.  Wood stoves provided heat and reflector lamps on the walls gave light.  At the time African American members of the congregation were required to sit in a balcony or in the rear of the church.  This second Ebenezer Church sanctuary had no balcony and very little room at the rear, so Reverend Joseph J. Hall and Reverend C. C. Wertenbaker assisted in the building of a log cabin on the farm of John Cornick.  In this structure the African Americans were able to worship and soon formed their own church.  This congregation is now Ebenezer Baptist Church, presently holding services in a beautiful new sanctuary on Baker Road near Virginia Wesleyan College.

The aforementioned Reverend Hall was one of our church’s most memorable ministers.   Born in 1828, he became a man of all trades: medicine, surveyor, cabinet maker, member of the General Assembly, minister, and councilor to all who needed help or advice.  He even had a pass which allowed him to ride through the Union lines during the Civil War.  He taught school for over 40 years in a little one-room school somewhere on the present Haygood property.   The Festival Hall (Little Red Schoolhouse) was built in 1886 and was used as a social hall but also as a school.  When this building was torn down in 1945, a pine paddle was discovered with the initials J. J. H.  This instrument apparently supplemented Hall’s teaching of reading, ciphering and Latin!  A member of the Oliver family was one of Mr. Hall’s students.  Another teacher at the Little Red Schoolhouse in the late part of the nineteenth century was Berkeley Walter Shelton, Sr.  The roots of two important Haygood families, the Shelton family and the Oliver family, go back to this time in our history.

What happened to the original Ebenezer church building?  Apparently it was sold to George W. Smith who brought it to his farm to be used as a barn.  In 1910 the farm was sold to the Oliver family and wood from the original Ebenezer church was used to build a corn crib on that farm.  When the corn crib was to be demolished, a member of the family, Stanley Oliver, rescued some of the wood.  Bob Herd, a member of our present congregation, used some of the wood to make the beautiful cross in the chancel of our sanctuary.   Other pieces of the wood were used for gavels, made by Lewis Dillon and presented to Haygood Administrative Board, Haygood United Methodist Women, and the Norfolk District Historical Society of the United Methodist Church.

At the time of the second Ebenezer church building, Ebenezer was part of the East Norfolk circuit, along with Denby and Zion Methodist churches.  At this time, the minister preached only twice a month: the second Sunday of the month at 11:00 A.M. and the fourth Sunday at 3:00 P.M.  Sunday School was held every Sunday, weather permitting.  As the church grew and added Festival Hall (Little Red Schoolhouse), the congregation requested a resident pastor.  In 1892 Reverend George F. Green was sent and served the “double-barreled” station of Ebenezer and Lynnhaven Mission.

Haygood Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1896

The Ebenezer congregation outgrew its old sanctuary and a committee was formed to look into the construction of a new church building.   Committee members James Twiford, W. E. Biddle, Reverend George Green, John Babcock and William James decided to employ the architectural firm of J. J. Ray Mulcahy of Boston.  The new church’s foundation was laid on March 25, 1895 and just over a year later, June 7, 1896, it was dedicated.  Apparently some members of Ebenezer had attended a conference in Georgia where they heard Bishop Atticus G. Haygood speak.  They were so inspired by him that they recommended changing the name of the church to commemorate the good bishop, who died early in 1896.  Thus the church became Haygood Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

What happened to the old church building from 1868?  Well, it certainly wasn’t wasted.  It was just moved down the highway to an area which is actually now McDonald Garden Center.  It was repaired and renovated and used as a parsonage.  In 1929 more extensive repairs were undertaken when electricity and running water were added.  This costly renovation was underwritten by Mr. B.W. Shelton, and the congregation repaid Mr. Shelton over the space of 13 years by collecting free-will gifts and holding oyster suppers.  The building was sold in 1945;  Reverend E. Leon Smith and his family were the last to use it as a parsonage.

Atticus G. Haygood

Bishop Haygood never actually set foot in Princess Anne County, let alone in Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church.  He was an eminent man, however, and left a lasting legacy in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  In many ways he was a man before his time.  He was most closely associated with Emory College in Atlanta, Georgia, having graduated from there in 1859 and later having been elected president in 1875.  On the cover of one of his small publications, The Man of Galilee, he is referred to as “Liberal Spokesman of the New South.”  That describes him pretty well.  He worked to improve education for black people, advocated small farms as a replacement for the old plantation system and extolled the virtues of free labor over the old slave labor system.  He saw the need for industrialization in the South and promoted immigration.  He stirred controversy when he stated that slavery had been a curse and that provincialism, illiteracy, lack of literature and inadequate educational facilities were holding the South back from a prosperous future.  He was a true patriot, for he advocated putting aside racial and geographical differences for the virtues of the larger good: the welfare of the Union and the glory of God.  In 1890, Haygood was elected bishop after having declined the office in 1882.  He went to California with the task of strengthening Methodism there, but returned to Georgia in failing health and died on January 19, 1896.

Haygood Memorial Methodist Church, 1939

The health of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, improved in the decades after the Civil War and its membership grew.  Still, the various factions of Methodism were separate.  The church embraced many issues through the years preceding and following World War I.  Temperance was always an important priority, and members were asked to pledge abstinence from alcoholic beverages.  Theological ferment pitted fundamentalist ideas against liberal Protestant theology and neo-orthodoxy.  In the midst of this, however, steps were taken to reunite John Wesley’s factious followers.

In 1916, the various Methodist groups, seeing the advantages to healing old schisms, convened to try to create a plan for union.  Representatives met for many years and proposed partitioning the united church into six jurisdictions: five determined geographically and one for African American churches.  In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Protestant Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South were united into a single church, the Methodist Church, claiming 7.7 million members.  At this point, Haygood became Haygood Memorial Methodist Church.

Haygood Grows Over The Years

The lovely 1896 chapel served the church well for many years.  Growth in the membership required more space, however, and a Sunday School building was attached to the chapel in 1943 by cutting a door to the right of the pulpit.  The new building was constructed to blend architecturally with the chapel.  For many years, the second sanctuary (1868) had been used as a parsonage, but it was replaced by a new parsonage in 1948.  In 1956 even more church school space was added by a new brick wing connected to the 1948 addition.  Probably the most extensive building project was completed in 1964 when a new brick sanctuary (the present one) was built.  Along with it came the social hall and kitchen.  The present parsonage was built in 1968.
A church that outgrows its facilities is a good problem to have, and in 1985 new wings were added, encompassing a new church office, adult church school classrooms, nursery rooms, a music room and a garden court.  At this time the 1943 Sunday School building was removed and the chapel was separated from the rest of the church buildings.  Reverend Laughton Corr was pastor and serving on the steering committee were Bill Crable, Polly Gregory, Jim Fletcher, Norm Chase, Howard Lewis, Ruth LaRock, Marlene Maurer, Cecil Bertell and Virginia Graves.  The chancel area of the sanctuary was renovated in 1994.

But the little white chapel, standing alone on the corner, fell into disrepair.  After long-time member Stanley Oliver died in 1992, his family felt that the best way to honor to his memory would be to preserve the chapel.  It became quite an extensive task, both inside and out.  It now stands renovated in nearly the same design as it was built in 1896.

And we’ve had our celebrations!  In 1982 we celebrated our one hundred fiftieth year as an organized congregation.  In 1992 came our one hundred sixtieth anniversary homecoming celebration.  The one hundredth anniversary of our chapel was celebrated in 1996 with a special service, luncheon, games and period costumes.  And, of course, now we are celebrating our one hundred seventy fifth anniversary.

The United Methodist Church

One last important change occurred in the Methodist Church structure in 1968.  Previously in 1946 the United Brethren Church (started by Philip William Otterbein and Martin Boehm) united with the Evangelical Church (begun by Jacob Albright).  This church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church, then joined with the Methodist Church to become the United Methodist Church.

Basic beliefs of this united church include the following:

  • God is one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  •   The writings of the Old and New Testament are the inspired word of God.
  •   The church recognizes two sacraments: Baptism and Holy Communion.  Infant baptism is common and the church recognizes baptism from other denominations and practices open communion.
  •   The church includes and welcomes people of all races, cultures and ages.
  •   The church believes that people, while corrupted by sin, are free to make their own choices because of God’s divine grace.
  •   The church believes that God gives unmerited favor freely to all people, though it may be resisted.

So in 1968, the little church that started out as Ebenezer Methodist Episcopal Church in 1832 became Haygood United Methodist Church.

Haygood Chapel with 1943 Education Wing

Chancel Choir in Late 1970’s

Groundbreaking for New Addition, 1985

Pastors Who Have Served Ebenezer/Haygood Church

      A complete list of pastors is just not available, unfortunately.  We do not know the names of the dedicated circuit riders who served the old Ebenezer congregation in the early to mid nineteenth century.  The office of the Norfolk District of the Virginia Conference has records going back to 1920.  We have only a few names of preachers before that.  As was mentioned before, Ebenezer was part of a three-point charge with Denby and Zion Methodist Episcopal churches, and then it became part of a two-point charge with Lynnhaven Mission.  Records show that until 1953, Haygood was included in the Lynnhaven charge.
J. J. Hall certainly preached at Ebenezer in the mid 1800’s, most likely up to his death in 1889.  There is mention of a Reverend C. C. Whertenbaker also, who may have preached at Ebenezer before J. J. Hall.
A list of pastors found in church records but not verifiable by Conference Records follows:

George F. Green,  1892-1896
T. J. Wroy,       1896-1897
A. A. Jones,      1897-1899
John T. Sewell,   1899-1900
H. C. Cheatham,   1900-1901
D. B. Austin,     1901-1905
J. H. Kabler,     1905-1906
A. J. Preeden,    1906-1907
N. J. Pruden,     1907-1908
Reicher McDaniel,  1908-1910
W. L. Jones,      1910-1912
J. F. Valliant,   1912-1913
John M. Kline,    1913-1916
W. L. King,       1916-1920

The first pastor to be recorded in available Conference records is W. L. King who served the church in 1920.  The following is a list of pastors since 1920:

L. C. Smart,               1920-1922
W. J. Williams,            1922-1923
W. D. Keene,               1923-1924
J. T. Mills,               1923-1927
W. H. Hantzamon,           1927-1928
O. B. Carter,              1928-1929
J. B. Lavinder,            1929-1931
Porter Hardy,              1931-1934
R. I. Williams,            1934-1938
Percy D. White,            1938-1942
E. Leon Smith,             1942-1947
Marvin W. Mann,            1947-1949
A. W. Linthicum,           1949-1953
Lee Roy Brown,             1953-1957
Charles A. McCormick, Jr., 1957-1961
Jenus G. Long, Jr.,        1961-1965
Robert F. Bryan,           1965-1970
Lee H. Beville,            1970-1974
Sidney L. Willis,          1974-1978
Wesley E. Arthur,          1978-1982
Laughton L. Corr,          1982-1988
Edward M. Garrett,         1988-1992
Alan G. Reifsnyder,        1992-2000
W. Michael Nobles, Sr.,    2000-2004
Douglas Geeting,           2004-2007
Charles A. Shumate,        2007-

 Click here to see a detailed timeline of Haygood United Methodist Church.


Sources of Information

  • Notes written by Alvis Oliver from information provided by Alice Oliver and Ida Shelton James
  • Bateman, Charlene and Toncray, Barbara, “The History of Bayside Elementary School and Bayside Elementary School PTA”; Virginia Beach City Schools, 1989
  • United Methodist Church website, Archives.  (karchives.umc.org)
  • Norfolk Historical Society website (www.norfolkhistorical.org)
  • Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org)
  • Norfolk District Office, United Methodist Church, Virginia Annual Conference Records