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History of Simpson-Gillespie United Methodist Church

 
The Simpson-Gillespie Story

Simpson-Gillespie has a story to tell – a story that began in 1866 under a birch tree arbor on South Graham Street and continues to unfold 139 years later in a brick edifice on Beatties Ford Road. Simpson-Gillespie has a story to tell – a story of a pilgrimage of 31 pastors to Simpson Memorial Methodist Church and a journey of 11 pastors to Simpson-Gillespie United Methodist Church. 

 

Simpson-Gillespie has a story to tell – a story of prayer and hope, of faith and sacrifice, of tears and laughter, of success and disappointment, of problems and solutions, of suffering and endurance, of service and love.

 

Simpson-Gillespie's Namesake

Simpson Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church was named in honor of Bishop Matthew Simpson.  In 1939, when the Methodist Episcopal Church united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church, the term Episcopal was deleted from the name.  The term United was added when the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren.  After the merger with Gillespie United Methodist Church, the name changed to Simpson-Gillespie United Methodist Church.

 

The Beginning 

The story begins when a group of Bible students (former slaves) met in 1866 under a birch tree arbor in the 300 block of South Graham Street in Charlotte, North Carolina.  James Goode, Isaac Adams, and William Davidson were members of that group on that eventful day, the beginning of Simpson Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church.  James Goode was the grandfather of Mamie Shipman, a member of the Simpson-Gillespie congregation until her death in March, 2004.  Isaac Adams and William Davidson were brothers and former slaves.  William Davidson was the father of Annie Davidson Brown, the mother of Bernard and Clyde Brown.  Bernard, a resident of a local nursing home, is a Simpson-Gillespie member.  Clyde is the deceased husband of Elaine Brown, also a Simpson-Gillespie member.

 

Simpson Memorial was organized in 1867, but the charter group assembled in the home of A.B. Shenck, one of the early leaders, until 1873.  The first pastor, Reverend W. Rawlings, was appointed in 1870.  During his one-year term, he had a membership of 15.

 

In 1872 the trustees of the church purchased land on the west side of the 300 block of South Graham Street.  With a membership of 17, the church, a frame structure, was dedicated for public worship on May 11, 1873.  Between 1873 and 1885, the membership increased to 82.  By 1888, under the pastorate of Reverend E. M. Collette, an evangelist, the membership grew to 105.  From 1870 to 1899, nine pastors led the Simpson Memorial congregation.

 

1899-1933 

Between 1899 and 1933, twelve pastors were assigned to Simpson Memorial.  In 1899 the church, under the pastorate of Reverend G. W. Morehead, purchased property on the east side of South Graham Street.  The construction of a brick church began in 1904 under the pastorate of Reverend A.H. Newsome.  When Reverend S.F.B. Peace became the pastor, the congregation completed the building project.  The church, under the leadership of Reverend William Wells, added a fellowship-recreation area.  During the administration of Reverenced A.G. Jenkins, the congregation built a brick parsonage.

 

Boulware Chapel, a mission located at the corner of Carmel and Sanders Streets, was built in 1924 under the leadership of Reverend William Wells.  The mission later united with Simpson Memorial.

 

1933-1955

From 1933 to 1955, eight pastors were appointed to Simpson Memorial.  Reverend G. E. Hogue and the congregation converted the fellowship hall into classrooms.  The Women’s Society of Christian Service replaced the Woman’s Home Missionary Society, and Reverend Hogue organized the youth fellowship.  Reverend Benjamin W. Stewart organized the Methodist Men.  Mr. Fred Williams, the husband of Mrs. Margaret Williams, a Simpson-Gillespie member, was the president of the group.

 

 Reverend Clarence E. Strickland

Reverend Clarence E. Strickland, who had the reputation for being a church builder, became the pastor of Simpson Memorial in 1955.  Because of the increasing industrialization of Charlotte, the church relocated in 1957 to the former Wesley Heights Presbyterian Church site on West Trade Street.  Other highlights of his administration were the initiation of the open chancel and the publication of The Voice of Simpson, the parish paper.

 

Reverend James E. McCallum

Reverend James E. McCallum, the past pastor of Simpson Memorial Methodist Church, was the first pastor of Simpson-Gillespie United Methodist Church.  In 1968 Reverend McCallum and Reverend James E. Draper, pastor of Gillespie United Methodist Church, a white congregation, collaborated in the merger of the two churches.  On September 2, 1969, the merger service was conducted at the Gillespie location on Winston Street. 

 

Only two white members remained after the merger:  Mrs. Mary Daugherty and her husband, Mr. King Daugherty.  Mrs. Daugherty, the organist at Gillespie United Methodist Church, continued in that position at Simpson-Gillespie and was involved in other church activities.  Mr. Daugherty, the leader of the Boy Scouts, received many awards and held several official positions in the church.  Mr. and Mrs. Daugherty are now deceased, and the church has become an all-black congregation

 

During Reverend McCallum’s administration, there were many accomplishments.  A major accomplishment was the federally funded lunch program for the elderly citizens of the church and the community.  Other highlights included the first acolytes, the first confirmation class, the Boy Scouts, the Hostess Club, the Rainbow Tea, and a tutorial program.  Three musical groups were added:  a gospel choir (the Soul-to-Soul Gospel Notes), a contemporary gospel ensemble (The Voices of Simpson), and a mass choir.  The junior ushers, the night Vacation Bible School, a dramatization of The Last Supper, and the observance of National Family Week were addition al highlights during Reverend McCallum’s pastorate. 

 

Reverend Joseph F. Haskins

During the administration of Reverend Joseph F. Haskins, the second pastor of Simpson-Gillespie, the church had a vast increase in the membership.  He introduced congregational participation in the ritual of washing feet, an act of humility demonstrated by Jesus in the washing of the disciples’ feet.  The church conducted a clothing drive for a family in Zaire, remodeled the front of the sanctuary, and purchased a Hammond organ and a baby grand piano.  Reverend Haskins impressed the congregation with his knowledge of an incredibly large number of hymns, and he appeared to know the words from memory.  Many members began to wonder whether there were any hymns that he did knot know.

 

Reverend Robert H. McDowell

The third pastor of Simpson-Gillespie was Reverend Robert H. McDowell, who was also a competent piano tuner.  During his pastorate, the Chrismon tree was introduced as a sacred addition to the meaning of Christmas.  The Chrismon tree remains a major part of Christmas at Simpson-Gillespie.

 

Reverend Preston C. Jones 

Reverend Preston C. Jones, the fourth pastor of Simpson-Gillespie, used “We are Building Together” as the theme for the Building Fund Crusade.  An all-night prayer service, a sacrificial fundraiser, and a church wide banquet were the major components of the crusade.  The groundbreaking ceremony for the present location of the church was held on June 24, 1984.  Other highlights during his pastorate were the publication of the first pictorial directory and the concert by the Chancel Choir at Johnson C. Smith University.  Mr. Theodore Avery was the director; Mr. Gerado Stroud was the guest organist.

 

Reverend John F. Epps

Under the leadership of Reverend John F. Epps, the fifth pastor of Simpson-Gillespie, the congregation purchased a parsonage on McBride Street, sold the church on Winston Street, and worshipped at the Methodist Home during the construction of the present church.  The first worship service at the new church was on Sunday, June 19, 1988. The consecration was on July 24, 1988.  Another highlight of his administration was a Black History Presentation, “A Celebration of Black History Month:  A Time for Rededication .”  This program was presented at Simpson-Gillespie and at Saint Mark United Methodist Church, a local church.

 

Reverend James H.Graves

In June, 1989, Reverend James H.Graves became the sixth pastor of Simpson-Gillespie.  Mr. Albert Mills, who joined the church under the leadership of Reverend Graves, is now a United Methodist pastor.  Reverend Graves was the first teacher of

Becoming Disciples Through Christ, a thirty-four-week Bible course at Simpson-Gillespie.  He was also the teacher of Thursday at Simpson, a weekly Bible class.  Other accomplishments during his pastorate were the Little Disciples, the liturgists, the Inspirational Choir, the Simpson-Gillespie Gospel Choir, Hymn of the Month, the purchase of a piano by the Sunday school for the Family Life Center, the installation of the bell from the South Graham Street location, the Get-Out-the-Vote Campaign, and the publication of In Touch the newsletter.  Additional highlights were the stained glass windows, the Sunday morning worship in the park, the noonday Lenten services (with the liturgists as speakers), the use of liturgists as chairpersons of the shepherd groups, and the Alcoholics Anonymous community group.  The concert by the Chancel Choir (James Weldon Johnson’s God’s Trombones (Mrs. Gwendolyn Turner, organist), the Black History presentations, the pulpit/choir exchange with Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, the Simpson-Gillespie Players’ presentations of James Baldwin’s Amen Corner and Lorraine Hansberry’s Raisin in the Sun, and the annual spiritual retreat at Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, were memorable events.  Following the discussion of a Sunday school lesson the members of Adult Class 1 were motivated to initiate a church wide clothing closet project for indigent persons in the community, for the Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte, and for the victims of Hurricane Hugo in Charlotte and in Charleston South Carolina.  Reverend Grave’s administration was certainly a period of many accomplishments.

 

Dr. Walter H, McKelvey

In June, 1995, with the arrival of Dr. Walter H, McKelvey, the seventh pastor of Simpson-Gillespie, a spiritual metamorphosis was evident.  Two immediate achievements were leadership training and an impressive membership increase.  Dr. McKelvey became the second teacher of Becoming Disciples through Christ, a thirty-four-week Bible course.  During the morning worship, the liturgists conducted the Concert of Prayer.  Letters by the youth and a copy of the 130th anniversary booklet were the contributions by Simpson-Gillespie to the twenty-five-year Time Capsule of the Beatties Ford Road Library in Charlotte.  The Anniversary/Revival (May 19-26, 1966), the revival of the youth choir, the expansion of the children’s choir, the Lenten meditations by guest pastors, and Super Sunday were memorable experiences.  Other highlights were the meeting of the Western North Carolina Black Convocation, the Break-the-Fast Recruitment Campaign sponsored by the Sunday school, Family Night, First Thursday, Ladies’ Day Out, and Red Hot Tips, the newsletter.  Reverend Alexis Anthony, the Associate pastor, replaced the liturgists during the Sunday morning worship.

 

Dr. McKelvey was a leader, an inspirer, and an organizer.  He was a man with a message:  “We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us.”  He was a man with a passion:  “We cannot be lukewarm; we must be red hot for Christ.”  He was a man with a vision:  “Simpson-Gillespie is a great church, but it can become  a greater church.”

 

Dr. Carl Arrington

Dr. Carl Arrington was the eighth pastor of Simpson-Gillespie.  He conducted the Spiritual Gifts Discovery Workshop, which led to the organization of a variety of caring groups at the church.  The Give to Live Stewardship Campaign provided a detailed discussion of Christian stewardship and afforded numerous opportunities for thorough self-examination.  On September 27, 1998, the church celebrated Heritage Sunday with an afternoon program consisting of music, drama, Know Your Church History Bowl, a candlelight service, the Heritage Fair, and a fellowship hour.  Dr. Arrington became the third teacher of Becoming Disciples through Christ.

 

Dr. James Ferree

Bishop Charlene Kammerer of the Charlotte District, the Western North Carolina Conference assigned Dr. James Ferree, a retired minister, for one year as the pastor of Simpson-Gillespie.  Despite the brevity of his administration there were many memorable events.  On October 24, 1999, the Chancel Choir, under the direction of Mr. Isaac Brunson, presented a concert at Johnson C. Smith University.  Heritage Sunday was a celebration of Simpson-Gillespie’s 133rd birthday – a celebration consisting of a heritage sermon, heritage hymns, heritage reflections, historical displays, colorful balloons, delicious refreshments, and souvenir pens.  Dr. Ferree was the liturgist at the thirty-third annual meeting of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Inc., in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  A handbell choir was formed, and the handbells were consecrated during his administration.  He emphasized the use of class leaders and prayer partners. Other highlights included a Bible Study Class, the Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve services, the preliminary plans for the Michigan concert, and the publication of The Weekly Informer, a newsletter.  He was the ninth pastor of Simpson-Gillespie.

 

Reverend Andrew W. Brown, Jr. 

Reverend Andrew W. Brown, Jr., became the tenth pastor of Simpson-Gillespie in 2000, and he served in this capacity until his retirement in 2004.  He included Reverend C. W. Morris, an elder in the Liberian Annual Conference, the United Methodist Church, and the liturgists as assistants in the Sunday morning worship.  Reverend Brown emphasized leadership training, expanded outreach ministries, and encouraged sacrificial giving.  He taught Advent and Lenten study courses, and he volunteered to teach a Sunday school class during the absence of the teacher.  When a committee or other group had a meeting, he was there.  When the Sunday school met for devotions, he was there.  When a member was ill, he was there.  When a member was hospitalized, he was there.  When a program was presented or an activity was held, he was there.  He did not hesitate to wash the van, sweep the floor, arrange the chairs, or take the garbage to the dumpster.  He was an excellent administrator and leader, a profound thinker and speaker.  He was observant, compassionate, and humble.

 

The church, under the leadership of Reverend Brown, experienced a four-year period of many accomplishments.  The Joyful Ringers and the Simpson-Gillespie Liturgical Dancers performed regularly during the morning worship.  Sometimes the entire congregation participated in liturgical movements.  The Service of Healing, which involved the anointing of each member’s forehead with oil, was a moving experience.  The Souper Bowl of Sharing, Crop Walk, and Habitat for Humanity were only three of the many opportunities for giving in which Simpson-Gillespie participated.  The Health Fair, the Hanging of the Greens, the Back to School Sunday, the Children’s Sabbath, and the Sunday school…   It Out” Recruitment Campaign were some of the highlights of Reverend Brown’s administration.  Revivals, cluster services, contemporary worship, Family Movie Night, Vacation Bible School, Student Recognition day – all were memorable events.

 

The Building Expansion Project was a really ambitious task.  The decision to expand was made several years before Reverend Brown’s arrival, but the actual construction began and was almost completed at his departure.  The Building Expansion Project included the modernization and enlargement of the kitchen, the enlargement of the Family Life Center, the addition of several classrooms, a choir room, a records room, a finance room, a storage room, and two restrooms.  A second system, a new piano for the sanctuary, addition al stained windows and copies of the African American Heritage Hymnal were also purchased during his administration.

Another ambitious project was the concert featuring the Male Chorus from Bethel A.M.E. Church, Saginaw, Michigan.  Gena Amos, a Charlotte native and former member of Simpson-Gillespie, was the pianist, directress, and Keyboardist of the group; Lorraine Conley was the clarinetist; Nathan Smith was the drummer.  This concert of gospels, spirituals, and special arrangements of hymns was a free concert for the benefit of the Simpson-Gillespie Music Department.  Gena’s senior pastor, his wife and some of the members from her church and the Saginaw community accompanied the group on a fifty-four-passenger motor coach from Saginaw, Michigan, to Charlotte North Carolina.

 

Reverend Walter Pegues

In July, 2004, Reverend Walter Pegues succeeded Reverend Brown as the eleventh pastor of Simpson-Gillespie.  Alter call is every Sunday, including Communion Sunday.  He enjoys singing, and he utilizes his talent in the Sunday morning worship.  He continues to use Reverend Morris and the liturgists as assistants in the worship services, and he plans to increase the responsibilities of the liturgists.

 

Under his leadership, the Simpson-Gillespie story continues to unfold as a story of faith and sacrifice.  He has said repeatedly that the senior citizens, with their wealth of experience, could serve as mentors.  In “From Pastor Pegues ' Desk,” he has shared in a congregation meeting his goals, needs, priorities, and vision.  He teaches the daytime Bible Study Class and supports the prayer ministry.  Youth Sunday is every fourth Sunday, and the Male Chorus sings every fifth Sunday.  Major accomplishments include the completion of the Building Expansion project, the publication of the directory and the newsletter, and the “new look” of each Sunday’s bulletin.  Youth revival services, Vacation Bible School, expansion of the children’s ministries, utilization of musical variety during the morning worship, varied observances, and outreach ministries are some of the highlights of Pastor Pegues' administration.  A poster in the Narthex includes pictures of new members, and many visitors attend the services.

 

            Pastor Pegues is spirited.  He is a powerful speaker and elicits responses from the congregation.

 

            Pastor Pegues is energetic.  He is not a stay-behind-the-podium speaker.  He moves around, leaves the pulpit and joins the congregation. 

 

            He is a revivalist.

             Pastor Pegues is optimistic.  He is a man with a vision:  “Today begins a new era in the life of Simpson-Gillespie from this point on we will no longer be the church on the corner.  We have now begun the journey to becoming the lighthouse on the corner; so each of us must take his part of the light while standing with the other members to be a beacon for God.”

 

The Legacy Continues 

The Simpson-Gillespie story does not end here.  Pastors come and go; congregations change; churches expand and rebuild; life and death remain an inevitable cycle.  The legacy will continue because history is today’s creation for tomorrow’s preservation.