The Bostic couple spend their Sunday mornings doing the same thing they have always done for the past 57 years, Sunday service at John Wesley United Methodist Church.
They wake up early to eat breakfast, enjoy a cup of coffee and head off to Sunday school. The destination is 101 E. Court St. in downtown Greenville.
The couple attends Sunday school at 9:45 a.m., followed by the worship service. Church bells ring promptly at 11:00 a.m. and worship last for two hours.
This routine has marked the significance of having an influential church for Fred and Mamie Bostic. They have found a home in John Wesley together as they have attended for 57 years, and see no end in sight.
Former pastor, Dr. Reverend Granville Hicks, has a similar routine. He and his wife have been regularly attending John Wesley United Methodist Church since his appointment in 1997.
“The church started in 1866 in a small house. It was called Silver Hill following the Civil War,” Hicks said. “Years later the current building was established and re-named John Wesley.”
The old John Wesley for Chandra Dillard included a big dark linoleum room with six classrooms on the sides, wooden pews that lined the middle of the room, and a stage in the front with a piano.
As a 53-year-old, Dillard has vivid memories of her youth in the church. Since being a member from birth, she has met several influential individuals at John Wesley.
Her family is now in their fourth generation of membership at John Wesley. She has learned the people inside the building create the church. Some of the notable members according to Dillard were: Ella Mae Logan who started Phillis Wheatley, Dr. Bill Gibson the former local, state, then national NAACP President. Other notable members include educators, Mrs. Clemmie Jones, and Dr. Rudolph G. Gordon who was a school superintendent in Greenville County. They helped foster a successful congregation at John Wesley.
“To me, that [John Wesley] was still a very intimate setting. Where you could learn everyone’s name. Where everyone could help you and by help you, corrected you and was part of whatever you were a part of,” said Dillard.
Dillard values the forefathers that came to lay the foundation for the church.
“I am in love with John Wesley’s history and legacy. To know that those who came before us had enough vision to build a magnificent church, with little funds back in 1866. In the high of segregation to say that education is important and to later start a school here, that later became Greenville’s first black high school. You know what a vision, and that started in our basement,” said Dillard.
From the outside looking in Tevin Smith sees history, education, and prestige oozing out of John Wesley United Methodist Church.
Although he now pastors his own congregation in Greenville, Smith’s spiritual roots began at John Wesley. His great grandparents were church members.
For him, the history of the church and the nurturing spirit of the people continue to lead him back to this place of worship.
The changing community is now present where historic John Wesley resides. Smith says John Wesley needs to be involved in the change.
Smith says, “Become involved in the gentrification of the area. Although you know the church is already beautiful by itself. With the beautification of the edifice. Stay up to date with what’s going on around the community.”
Compared to more recently established megachurches traditions is one of the biggest draws to John Wesley.
Smith’s memories of this church are highlighted by the congregation’s emphasis Negro History Week, choir members wearing African attire and flaunting black fraternity and sorority paraphernalia at church.
These are traditions of the people, not just the church.
“You get that feel of culture. Truly. It is not a culture shock,” Smith said, “It makes you want to learn more about who you are, and that is the historical part of it.”
With 152 years of history at John Wesley United Methodist Church, individuals question, how does this brick building continue to draw not only families but millennials inside their doors?
Kirsten Hayes a millennial and two-year member, is making John Wesley her home church. Moving to Greenville from Houston Hayes says, “I am staying here because I feel like there is a need for me here.”
She says she feels accepted at the church.
The congregation has an average age of 68. Hayes and many other young people still know they belong to this church. They are dedicated to making sure it continues to survive.
“I feel like the love that I get from the older crowd, that is wisdom. You cannot get that anywhere else,” says Hayes.
Hayes loves having a tight-knit African American church family at John Wesley to support her through life.
For Hayes her attachment to John Wesley is strong. She loves her black community. Hayes appreciates how the African American church relates to the black struggle.
As gentrification grows in Greenville, John Wesley is in the heart of change.
Hayes believes the love of the black church can reach many people in Greenville.
Hayes said, “We have a lot to growing, a lot to give. We will have to preserve our roots. Instill God into the little people. With this, God is not going to allow his black church to die.”
The Reverend Charlie Thomas has been in ministry for over 30 years. He has been the pastor of this historic church for the past three years. For Thomas, it is a honor to lead such a historic church in the community.
“There is a tremendous sense of pride amongst these people in this community,” said Thomas.
Thomas speaks about the importance of the brick and mortar building of John Wesley. In Greenville, this was more than just a building for black families.
“This church has served as a beacon of light for this community. Many intuitions have started out of John Wesley,” says Thomas, “This became their meeting place, that allowed them to plan, to strategize and go forward.”
But times are changing, and Thomas knows that. Younger members of the church are growing up and leaving the area. Older members are passing away. Therefore, to keep the spunk of the traditional church-going, Thomas believes we will have to continue to invest in our community.
“We can continue to be fruitful in this place if we continue to strategize and build effective ministries,” says Thomas.