DONOVAN MEMORIAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
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Our History

by Dale MacAllister

The Donovan Memorial United Methodist Church had its origins in camp meetings that were held during the mid-nineteenth century by the United Brethren in Christ in an oak grove on the Ephriam Ruebush farm just northeast of Singers Glen. These camp meetings kindled a flame of interest in the United Brethren Church in the area.

During the Civil War, local residents and followers of the United Brethren faith, moved an old, log Methodist Episcopal church from its location on the northeast side of Green Hill to a place on the Back Road (currently Turleytown Road) about a mile and a half north of Singers Glen. Here they opened Salem United Brethren in Christ Church on a hill overlooking the spreading foothills at the base of Little North Mountain. Salem is said to be the only United Brethren church started in Virginia during the turbulent War. The log building, for many years resigned to a less noble use as a livestock stable, is still standing today, an abandoned relic of the Civil War period.

Union Chapel
Area United Brethren members worshipped at Salem until the mid-1870s, but the small church building was hardly adequate for the growing membership. Singers Glen area Baptists had to travel even greater distances to attend services at the Turleytown Baptist Church several miles farther north on the same road. In 1875 the United Brethren and Baptists at Singers Glen decided to erect a union church in the village for the use of both denominations. Timothy Funk, son of Joseph Funk, founder of the town, gave a lot to the trustees of both denominations for the church site. The church, known as Union Chapel, was a simple, single-room structure of concrete walls. Large stones were cemented together with mortar and the exterior walls were plastered with a smooth stucco finish. Sunday school and preaching services alternated between the two denominations. The Baptists held services one Sunday and the United Brethren had them the next.

By 1887 the Baptists decided they needed their own church in Singers Glen, a place where they could hold worship services entirely on their own. The Union Chapel agreement had been set up so that either party could purchase the interest of the other party at an agreed upon price. Therefore, the United Brethren bought out the Baptist interest in Union Chapel for $437.85, and the church became the sole place of worship for United Brethren in Singers Glen.

Donovan Memorial Church
Soon after 1900 Union Chapel was showing its age and its size was clearly inadequate for the growing congregation. Members began talking about building a larger and more modern church. When local-son minister and former pastor John D. Donovan died of tuberculosis in 1905, the members at Singers Glen were finally energized to build a new structure to honor the memory of Reverend Donovan.

That same year, plans for a much larger brick church building were drawn up by T. Carl Staley, a local architect and husband of a Singers Glen native. Staley's plans called for a church with an auditorium seating capacity of 500. Although church members were originally hesitant to build so large a church with a projected cost of $5,000, they soon agreed to the plan. The old, concrete Union Chapel was demolished to make way for the new structure. Construction proceeded at a rapid pace. The bricks were molded and fired along the banks of the stream at the base of the cemetery hill, using the local red clay. When the Donovan Memorial Church was finally completed, it was an imposing structure for so small a community, with its large cathedral-shaped stained glass windows and gothic-styled bell towers. The building was officially dedicated on May 27, 1906, as the Donovan Memorial United Brethren in Christ Church.

The Sunday School Addition
By the mid1920s Sunday school classes had become crowded, and the need for more room was evident. The auditorium had been divided off into small meeting areas using curtains on fence wire strung across the sanctuary. In 1930 plans were drawn up for a Sunday school annex, including a basement with modern kitchen. Foremost among the concerns was that of preserving the original look of the church. This was accomplished through the use of matching brick throughout the addition and gothic-shaped windows with some stained-glass elements facing the front of the church. Construction began quickly on a two-story, ten-room addition at the back of the church. The new Sunday school annex was formally opened November 30, 1930.

The Fellowship Hall
Young people in the church had wanted an activities building with basketball court and more room for activities than was afforded by the church basement. The question came up when a modern, brick parsonage was built beside the church in 1963. The youth thought an activities building was needed more than a new parsonage.

The question again re-emerged in 1972, and a committee was formed to explore the additional space needs of the church. By 1973 the decision had been made to connect a fellowship hall onto the back of the Sunday school annex. The fellowship hall would contain some small meeting areas, a stage, additional restrooms, and a large area for meals and meetings. It also would house the church kitchen that would be moved from its cramped quarters in the church basement.

Historic District Status
In the 1970s the state of Virginia conferred historic district status on Singers Glen. Fieldwork performed at that time to canvas the community in search of properties that should be among those included in the historic district examined the Donovan Memorial Church. The historical architects described the architectural style of the church as a provincial version of Perpendicular Gothic. They commented about the large stained-glass window in the gable end and the three-dimensional brick work in the bell towers.

Denominational Changes
In 1948 the United Brethren in Christ Church merged with the Evangelical Church to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church, or EUBs, as they were familiarly called. This organizational structure lasted for twenty years.

Early leaders in the United Brethren Church had been associates of their counterpart in the Methodist Church. The two churches had always held a similar philosophy and doctrine. Merger talks had taken place as early as the 1770s. In 1968 theEUBs and the Methodist Church merged to form the United Methodist Church, one of the largest protestant denominations in the United States. Donovan Memorial made the changes quickly and has continued to be a progressive, evolving force in the Singers Glen community.

The Present
The Donovan Memorial United Methodist Church, located at 9788 Singers Glen Road, is nearing a century of service. We take pride in our church being a giving church. Our financial strength is sound. We support a varied program of charity and mission work. The church plant is well maintained and constantly upgraded. Although typical of many country churches, our membership has dwindled over the years, but the 1990s have witnessed a resurgence in the enthusiasm of our membership and growth in our attendance. We have an active choir, a new commitment to Sunday school classes for every age group, and the confidence that we are ready to meet the challenges of the twenty first century, as a pillar of strength and faith in the Singers Glen community.

 

 


The building where our church originally met was called Old Salem.  This building has been moved and is being reconstructed in Singers Glen beside our present church.  To learn more about this fascinating project and its progress click here:  Old Salem Church
  
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