Like many other churches in the early days of settlement, the origins of the Methodist started in England. Its founder was John Wesley who went from England to Ireland and then to the Americas. John and his brother Charles came to Georgia as missionaries for the Church of England. In 1738 after returning to England, John had a religious experience that changed his life and beliefs. He began proclaiming to others the gospel he had found. In 1771, Frances Ashbury came to America and became a great leader of American Methodism.
Wesley Chapel’s origins began back in the 1700s, according to Dr. William B. Wellons in his writings in 1872. Dr. Wellons organized Oakland Christian Church. He was the minister of Suffolk Christian Church at that time.
The Methodist in the area first had preaching in “Rushworms” on Everets Road. “Rushworms” was built on the property of Mr. Powell. He died without deeding it to the Methodists. It was then left to his son who was not religious and he asked the Methodist to move. Cowlings Chapel was erected on the present Moore Farm Lane in the late 1700 hundreds or early 1800s. (John Monroe Cowling and his wife are buried in Wesley Chapel’s Cemetery. He was grandson of Josiah Cowling, for whom Cowling’s Chapel was named.) The church was a rectangular building which only included the sanctuary. Two wood burning stoves on both sides of the sanctuary provided heat. In 1893, vestibules were added at each side on the front, and an altar in the sanctuary and a bell tower.
Over time, as with many religious groups, division arose and splits occurred. In the early days, these caused the separation of groups and name changes. This also happened in the village of Chuckatuck. Around 1828, members succeeded from Cowlings Chapel and moved to Chuckatuck. They called themselves Methodist Protestants and erected the Wesley Chapel Building in 1850. In 1871, Cowling’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal members, who had moved to Oakland in 1851, reunited with Wesley Chapel Protestant members. They then became Wesley Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South. Today they are Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church, part of the new Elizabeth River District, in the Virginia Conference.
Wesley Chapel was on a four point charge with Benn’s Church, Riverview in Rescue, and Oak Grove in Sugar Hill from 1922 until 1951. The parsonage was owned by Benn’s Church. All of the churches were in Isle of Wight County except Wesley Chapel. Wesley Chapel had only two church services a month at that time but had Sunday school every Sunday. Benn’s became a one point charge in1951 and at the same time, Wesley Chapel became a two charge with Ebenezer in Crittenden. They built a parsonage in Crittenden, across the road from Ebenezer, with joint ownership. By 1954, Ebenezer became a one point church and bought Wesley Chapel’s part of the parsonage.
By the 20th century, attendance steadily climbed. In 1950, an educational building was added and dedicated by the Bishop at that time, Dr. Paul Garber of Richmond. The event took place 100 years after the completion of the original building. Strong leaders at that time who contributed in many ways were Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Saunders, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. J .R. Kirk and Rev. Robert Casey.
A new organ was purchased in the early 1950s. Katherine Spady was the organist from 1947 until 1955 when she and Frank moved to Georgia for 3 years. When they moved back to Chuckatuck, she continued until Betty and Sam Glasscock moved to the village in 1959. Betty Glasscock was the organist and director in 1960 with Katherine as an assistant. When Carolyn Melchor came to Wesley Chapel, Betty did the directing while Carolyn played. Louise Pickard, Betty’s friend also helped her when she was not able to play. Betty continued directing until her death in 1997; Carolyn Melchor played from 1985–1999 and at Betty’s death, became the director. Debbie Bryant is our director today, with the assistance of Teresa Kelly and Carolyn Melchor. There was no way the church could have paid any of these ladies according to their talent. All had excellent training and because of their efforts, Wesley Chapel was truly blessed with the most beautiful music possible. Wesley Chapel had a husband and wife team two years (sometime in the above time frame), who were the only paid directors ,organist and piano players that Wesley Chapel had ever had.
In the 1990s an A. K. KAWAI baby grand piano was left to the church from the Louise Pickard estate. Mrs. Pickard was a musician from the core city of Suffolk and a friend of Betty Staples Glasscock, the music director at that time. The piano was placed in the church where it remains today.
Reverend Robert Casey was a strong leader in the 1950s, even though he had a three point charge. He lived in Chuckatuck. In 1954, he was single, but married his fourth year and was granted one more year of service in order to live in the new parsonage, which was built during his last scheduled year of service, 1958. The membership increased during that time. After the late 1950s, membership again began to decline.
Rev. Melvin Ott Davis was the minister from 1969-1973. He was a very good pastor and minister and attendance improved during that time. He was transferred to Deep Creek Methodist Church and was a great asset to them also.
By 1980, attendance had improved and the entire sanctuary was renovated with replacement of new foundations and footings. The existing pine floors were removed, resurfaced and replaced. A new electrical system was installed; new heat pumps for heating and cooling were installed; old wall finishes removed and replaced with drywall and wood wainscoting; the choir area was enlarged; entire interior painting done; pews and the chancel rail were cleaned, painted or refinished, as needed. This was a time when membership was at its peak. Our very capable leader at that time was Reverend Edwin Clever. He was gifted in youth ministry. Wesley Chapel had a very active MYF and youth coral group, as well as an adult choir. Betty Glasscock was the organist and choir director at that time. Katherine Spady was always willing to help Betty when needed. During that time, Wesley Chapel became a one point charge for the first time in history of the church. It has kept that status since then.
In the next ten years, membership fluctuated as many of the children became adults and either moved to follow vocations or choose other churches after marriage. In the next thirty years, the stain glass windows of the 1800s were protected as necessary on the outside; glass was removed and soldered/glazed at a later date; restroom was remodeled; the chancel rail was split to allow better access to altar and easier movement for the minister.
During 1988-1993, the first female minister, Layne Wadsworth, was assigned to Wesley Chapel; two more women followed, Rev. Kathryyn Pigg and Rev. Gretchen Nelson. The first cross cultural minister, Rev. Ileana Rosario, started in 2009 and remains as minister today. Through the years, many other ministers began their initial years as a pastor with Wesley Chapel.
In May 2000, Wesley Chapel celebrated its 150th year of continuous service with dinner on the ground and the presence of four previous ministers, the Reverends Robert Casey, Charles Dameron, Lane Wardsworth, and Kathryn Pigg, the then present minister. A former District Superintendent of the Portsmouth District, Reverend Carl Haley, was also in attendance. A time capsule was placed under the stairwell by the president, Charles Wynn and members of the United Methodist men in the restroom, to be opened in May of 2005. Members and invited guest enjoyed a service and dinner on the beautiful spring day on the 3rd Sunday in May that was always the church homecoming day. The trustees at that time were Frank A. Spady, Jr., John W. Bradshaw and Betty C. Prelow.
Superintendents of Sunday school from 1922 -2011 were: Mr. Mills from Meador Lot Lane, J. R. Chapman, J. R. Kirk, Joshua Pretlow, C. J. Moody, Frank Spady, Billy Whitley, and Kirk Pretlow who serves presently.
Wesley Chapel has always been blessed to have excellent Sunday school teachers. (It was customary for a child and young adults to call all ladies, “Miss”, even if married.) Teaching in the early 1920s were Mrs. Mattie Godwin, (wife of Captain Charlie Godwin and grandmother of Judge James Godwin); Mrs. Annie Lee Gilliam and Mrs. R. T. Gilliam (Miss Dot), who were the grandmother and mother of Nancy Gilliam Lambdin, Frances Gilliam Tappin and Judith Gilliam Cobb. (Nancy is still a member of Wesley Chapel and lives in Chuckatuck; Judith resides at “Lake Prince” in Suffolk; Frances lives in Texas).
In the late thirties, Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Kirk both taught Sunday school classes at Wesley Chapel. The Adult class was named the Russell Kirk Bible Class in honor of Mr. Kirk’s devotion to Wesley Chapel. Mrs. Kirk taught in the intermediate classes. He and Mrs. Kirk belonged to the Saint John’s Episcopal Church as well and attended services at both churches every Sunday.
Before the educational building was built all Sunday school classes were held in the Sanctuary. Maroon curtains were hung to separate the classes. Both vestibules were also used. There were classes for all age groups and were well attended at that time. After the educational building was completed, the second story of the educational building accommodated all these classes plus the adults who met downstairs
Wesley Chapel has always been blessed with dedicated leaders through the years. Edna Blough taught children’s classes for many years. Other teachers were Janet Wynn, Lila Pretlow, Betty Glasscock, Ellen Glasscock, Marie Melton, Beverly Whitley, Teresa Kelly, Jo Anne Barlow, and David Goodrich. For the last years as children’s attendance dwindled, there have been only a few classes for small children. The remaining classes were for teens. At the present time, no children attend Sunday school. In the 1950s C. J. Moody taught the older teens. Mrs. Edna Saunders taught a Young Adult class in the 60s; Charles Hinton followed, until he moved away and the class disbanded. The Adult class has continued and is the only Sunday school class at the present time. Since 1960, it has been taught by Joshua Pretlow, Sam Glasscock and Joshua Pretlow, Jr., Tom Hines, Gene Corson, Mary Kay Miller and Drexel Bradshaw have recently been substitutes. Dorothy Bradshaw was president of the Adult Class for many years.
In recent years, Wesley Chapel has had many active groups within the church: United Methodist Women; United Methodist Men; MYF for the youth; community activities during summer, when there were only a few youth; Christmas and Easter Cantatas; Patriotic Music programs for the community; Sunday school picnics; Valentine Dinners for missions by David and Eva Goodrich; Bible Studies by the ministers; Fifth Sunday luncheons for the church; Share Fest and bazaars. Bible School was always popular in the summers for the children of the village; several years the adults were included. In recent years, Bible School has not been held.
The 2000s brought many challenges. The last ten years have found Wesley Chapel with Sunday school only for the adult class of ten to fifteen, with only three teenagers, with an older congregation, with average attendance of thirty- fifty (including choir of fifteen members), a new vivacious minister, 6 new members this last year, wonderful music and hope for the future.+++
*** Recent church leaders have been:
Lay Leaders: Sam Glasscock, Joshua Pretlow, Jr., Janet and Charles Wynn, and Mary Kay Miller.
Trustees: J. R. Kirk, W. G. Saunders, Edna Saunders, Joshua Pretlow, Betty Cross Pretlow, John Bradshaw, Frank Spady, Drexel Bradshaw, Beverly Whitley, Kirk Pretlow.
Administrative Council Chairpersons: Joshua Pretlow, Jr., David Goodrich, Gene Corson, Shelley Barlow,
Treasurers have been: Katherine Moody, 25 years; Ann Berard, 5 years; Pam Byrd, 11 years; Allen Bryant, 7 years and remains in that office today.
*** (above is for church Information that may need adding of more names)
+++ Excerpted mainly from, “Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church 1850-2000: A Brief History”, Written by Katherine and Frank Spady, Members of Wesley Chapel. Excerpts made by Beverly Whitley for GCHF project in 2011. Information that is after the year 2000 and some since 1958, entered as remembered by Beverly Rogers Whitley, a member of Wesley Chapel, with help from involved people and families. Many active members’ names may not be included only by lack of memory or by accident.