First organized in 1868, St. Stephen United Methodist Church is the oldest African-American congregation in Davidson County. The church stands proudly at the corner of East First Street and North Salisbury Street.
Inside, pictures of previous church leaders hang from the wall. Soon, a new and different picture will join the others. Rev. Arnetta Beverly is the church’s first female pastor. But that’s not the only thing that’s unique about her. Walking through the halls, Beverly stops and reads a plaque on the wall.
“My grandmother, my uncle, we have always been a part of this church,” Beverly said.
Beverly grew up in the historic church.
“To be able to come back to my home church, wonderful, wonderful,” Beverly said.
The sanctuary is adorned with colorful stained glass windows. On one window closest to the pulpit, the initials CLD are etched into the glass. Beverly points out that those are the initials of her great-great-grandfather.
Everywhere you turn, there’s history. The church is looking to preserve a Packard Organ — a pump organ that was last manufactured in 1893. Even in the closet there’s history. If you look past the vacuums and brooms, there’s a ladder on the wall that reminds you that African-Americans were not always warmly welcomed.
“Slaves were allowed to worship on the first and third Sunday in the balcony that was built in 1892,” Beverly said.
Over 150 years, St. Stephen UMC has seen a lot. The slave balcony is gone, civil rights planning meetings were held here and the congregation is now integrated and led by an African-American female pastor. Despite the changes, the church remains committed to its original goal of servicing the community. Bob Harmon is the managing director of Open Hands of Davidson County. The ministry is based at St. Stephen UMC and it provides help, hope and food for the less fortunate.
“It’s like a marriage made in heaven,” Harmon said. “They just welcomed us and all of our friends are coming back here.”
Due to its rich history, St. Stephen United Methodist Church is going through the process to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.
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