A Brief History of
Simpson Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church
And M. L. Harris United Methodist Church
According to the late historian, Alphonso Biggs, around 1872, a group of people regularly met under the grape arbors and wherever else they could to worship the Lord.
Ten years later, in 1882 the Georgia Legislature enacted legislation which granted the group a plot of land located at the corner of 6th Avenue and 7th Street for the expressed purpose of building a church. This act took place on February 15, 1882 in accordance with the Georgia Commissions of Commons. Thus, the original Simpson Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church was erected at 640 6th Avenue. It is thought that the church was named after Bishop Matthew Simpson, who presided over the 1869 general conference in Atlanta. This conference approved the resolution to organize colored churches in separate districts under the direction of Negro elders.
Unfortunately, we do not know all of the names of the pastors at Simpson Chapel, but some are listed here: Rev. J. Hankins (1901-03), Rev. Wade Brown (1932 – 33), Rev. J. J. Lewis (1938-43), Rev. Joshua Reddick (1943-44), Rev. Shepard Toson (1947-48), Rev. George W. Hatcher (1948-50), Rev. Grissom Thomas (1951-53), Rev. Carey Hughley (1953-55), Rev. B. F. Griggs (1955-58), Rev. Mathew Robinson (1958-60), Rev. T. A. Bryant (1961-62).
In the early 1960’s Simpson Chapel was a very small church that was surrounded by many other churches. Church leaders decided that the church needed to move if it was going to grow. The church broke ground on the property at Bedford St. and Old Cusseta Road in 1963 and contracted with Stovall Construction Company to build the church for 42,564 dollars. Many people helped to make the new church a reality. Most notable was Rev. Marquis LaFayette Harris, Resident Bishop of the Atlantic Coast Area of the Methodist Church. The church was renamed M. L. Harris Methodist Church in recognition of the tremendous contributions the Bishop made toward making its construction a reality.
Others who made significant contributions to the effort were Attorney Roscoe M. Thompson who handled legal matters, Rev. William Erwin, Columbus District Superintendent who helped to secure financial aid from the district and conference, and Mr. C. C. Murray Sr., Chairman of the Columbus Board of Missions, who also made a sizeable monetary contribution to the building effort. The Board of Trustees included Mr. Willie Pritchett, Mr. Henry Coleman, Mrs. Ola Holland, Mrs. Louise Jones, Mrs. Annie Munn, Mr. James Wright, Mr. Lorenzo Mabry and Mr. Wylie Jackson. The grand opening and dedication of M. L. Harris Methodist Church took place on April 24, 1966. At the time that M. L. Harris was built, African- American congregations within the Methodist Church were part of the Central Jurisdiction; a non-geographical conference separated from the general conference
In essence it was "a church within a church”. M. L. Harris was part of the LaGrange District of the Central Jurisdiction. In 1967, the Evangelical United Brethren merged with the Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church. One of the conditions of the merger was that segregation within the denomination would cease to exist. Thus in 1968, M. L. Harris Methodist Church became M. L. Harris United Methodist Church.
The first pastor of M. L. Harris was Rev. Thomas E. Hines, Jr., who served from 1966 to 1967. Rev. Charles Wilhite would follow and serve in 1967. Rev. William B. Howell was the third and longest serving pastor and at M. L. Harris United Methodist Church. He served from 1967-1992. Under his leadership, the congregation grew tremendously. During his 24 year tenure; church membership would grow to 373 members. Active and retired soldiers brought their families, others brought friends and relatives. The church daycare, under the direction of Mrs. Nevolia Wright and the various youth programs helped to attract young families. Many structural renovations were made to the church.
In 1992, Rev. Gregory K. Blue would become the 4th pastor of M. L. Harris United Methodist Church. For the first time, M. L. Harris Church also had an associate pastor, Rev. LaRonce Blue. Church attendance grew tremendously, so much that two worship services were held on Sundays.
Rev. Sharon Croom
On July 1, 2000, Rev. Blue resigned from the United Methodist denomination. More than half the congregation would also depart, leaving a smaller but faithful church body. Later in 2000, Rev. Dr. Sharon Adams became the 5th and first female pastor of M. L. Harris; Dr. Adams would marry and become Rev. Dr. Sharon Adams-Croom. She left the church in 2003.
Rev. James & Associate Pastor Patricia Burns
Following the departure of Rev Croom, Rev. Earl S. James became the 6th pastor of M. L. Harris Church. Rev. Patricia Burns moved from her position as lay leader to Associate Pastor. Rev. James encouraged administrative procedures to insure order, consistency, and accountability.
Rev. Walter C. Lundy
In June of 2013, Rev. James retired from full time ministry and Rev. Walter C. Lundy Sr. was appointed pastor. At M.L. Harris Church, the first priority is to make disciples as Christ commanded. The congregation is small in number, but great in spirit and dedication.
Adapted from “A Limited History of M. L. Harris Church” by Jessie Booth
Rev. Donald Mathis
In June of 2017, the South Georgia Annual Conference appointed Rev. Donald Mathis to be the eighth pastor of M. L. Harris United Methodist Church. Rev. Mathis is committed to developing spiritual leaders, who are determined to follow the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Today, M. L. Harris United Methodist Church continues to do ministry to care for God’s people, to grow in Christ, to share the Good News, and to make disciples. As the church motto says, it is “The Church Where Everybody is Somebody and God is ALL.”