In 1812, Canaan United Methodist Church was born with an elevated stand and an arbor beneath the shade trees. Bishop Francis Asbury preached, and the congregation gathered ‘round to hear the word.
On Sunday, the neatly kept red brick church where about 50 congregants still gather to hear the word will mark 200 years of fellowship, worship and Christian service. They will celebrate as they always have — with music, prayer and a picnic beneath the shade trees.
“In this day and age, it’s unusual to have a group of people that stayed in one area and participate in one church,” said Sandra Mitchell, a church member who serves as historian.
“We have a lot of the same families that started this church who are still here,” she said. “A lot of them have died and gone on, and their children still participate in the church.”
Mitchell said the church’s origins date to a time when it was served by a circuit preacher who probably rode his horse in and would preach at certain times. “It might have been certain months that he would come,” she said. “They didn’t have a preacher all the time then.”
The stand and arbor, on about 22 acres of land donated to the congregation by W.J. Cowen, served the Methodist faithful for about 25 years. The first church building was constructed during the 1830s from pine logs hewn from trees scattered across the grounds.
In 1859, it was replaced by a frame church near the location of the log church and the stand and arbor.
The present-day building — a classic church with high steps, a columned porch and a steeple — followed in 1952. The church’s colorful history, compiled in a six-page document written by former pastor Alvin Jones, is notable in that the present church it said to sit atop a gold mine.
According to the history, the contractor struck gold while digging a basement for the church. The man excitedly reported his finding to A.W. Love, a church member who matched every dollar raised for construction the new church.
Love insisted that the church construction go on despite the discovery, so the gold was never mined. “All churches everywhere are built on a gold mine if they are truly a Christian church,” Love said, according to the history.
“It meant more to them to get the church built than to mine the gold,” said Mack Wyatt, a member since 1975, whose parents and grandparents are buried in the adjacent Canaan cemetery.
During the 1800s, the church was the site of camp meetings, which lasted for as long as four weeks during the summer, during “lay time” when there was no pressing work to be done in the fields. Cabins that stood on the grounds then were occupied during the camp meetings.
The published history also notes that one member named William Whisehunt gave $16 a year to the church in the late 1800s — the largest contribution of any one person for the year. Other top supporters of the church gave no more than $5 for the year.
Wyatt, who lives nearby on rural McGill Road, said the church is like home to himself and wife Gennie. “It’s a real close-knit group,” he said of the members. “We just wish we had more, like most churches.”
He said one of his favorite things about the church is the fellowship.
“Occasionally, we get together for a chicken stew or a fish fry or have a supper,” Wyatt said. “We do that fairly regularly, and we have a good turnout, just to enjoy fellowship together.”
The Rev. Larry Hyder, who serves as pastor of both Canaan and the nearby Mount Vernon United Methodist Church in Hickory Grove, said the church is small in number but big in commitment and faith.
“It’s pretty obvious that the people at Canaan UMC are caring, from the overall appearance of the church itself,” Hyder said. “They spent a lot of time and effort, and they care about their church.”
And over two centuries, he said, the church has reached a lot of souls.
“You have to give credit to all the saints that have gone before — their commitment to the community and that church,” Hyder said. “And without the commitment to sustain that over the years from the people that followed, the church building wouldn’t have been there.”
Hyder also said Canaan is one of a few churches that have paid 100 percent of mission moneys requested by the South Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church.
“Over the years, they have been very faithful,” Hyder said.
Mitchell, whose husband, Ronald Mitchell, was raised in the church, said the people at Canaan take care of each other.
“Canaan is like a family,” Mitchell said. “If something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. We try to be there for each other. It’s what I think a church ought to be.”