“Celebrating the Past, Present, and Future!”
On that gloomy Friday afternoon, Jesus declared, “It is finished!” and bowed his head and gave up his Spirit. The Roman soldiers later that afternoon seeing that Jesus was already dead pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to confirm their job was done. Joseph of Arimathea asked for and received the body of Jesus from Pilate and wrapped it in strips of linen and spices and placed it within a tomb. THE END! That should be the end of the story by ordinary human standards but for Christian it is ONLY THE BEGINNING! We know that on that Sunday Jesus rose from the dead and showed himself to Mary Magdalene, the other women, to those going to Emmaus, to those behind locked doors, and over 500 witnesses over the course of 40 days before He ascended.
During that time, Jesus gave us explicit instructions to his disciples, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt. 28:18-20). He also said during that time, ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 1:4-5). When the disciples were confused Jesus stated, ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:7-8). At that time, the disciples did not know at that time the full import of Jesus’ promise. After Jesus ascended to the Father, the disciples and other believers came together and prayed. On the Day of Pentecost, the 120 were filled with the Holy Spirit that was given and the crowds noticed. The same disciples who doubted, deserted, fought for position, and argued now taught boldly about Jesus guiding the young united Church by preaching, worshiping, serving, and sharing their faith! The Church would grow and expand exponentially reaching both Jew and Gentile spreading from Jerusalem, Judea, Samarea, to Eastern Asia, Europe, Africa, and beyond.
For the first thousand years, the Church was simply the one undivided “Catholic Church” (meaning unified) until the split of 1054. The Church split into the Catholic Church in the West and the Eastern Orthodox Churches respectively. In 1517, after many generations of attempted reform, a “Protestant Reformation” occurred forming what would be the Lutheran Church and later the Mennonite or Anabaptist Church in 1525 and the Reformed or Presbyterian Church in 1536. This would later lead to many other movements like the Baptist, Congregationalist, Church of Christ, and Seventh Day Adventist Churches. Around the same time, in 1534 the Anglican Church began by splitting away from the “Catholic Church” which later birthed the Methodist Movement in 1738. The Methodist Church led to many other movements such as the Salvation Army, the Church of the Nazarene, the Holiness Churches, the Church of God, the Assembly of God, the Pentecostal Church, and many other various churches. As one can see, Christianity has expanded to grow many “spiritual branches” but we all have the same “spiritual root” in Jesus Christ! Paul said in Ephesians 3:17-18, “…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ!”
Our story as Methodists, of course, starts with Jesus but we can trace our “spiritual branch” back to a young clergyman named John Wesley who struggled to live a holy life by his own strength until he found God’s extravagant grace! His new faith was contagious and he preached it in England, Scotland, Ireland, and wherever one would listen. Eventually, circuit riders, class leaders, and laymen and women would carry it to America and beyond…even to a place called Rayville, Louisiana! The first Methodist preacher in the Natchez area was Tobias Gibson around the year 1799. Other preachers, like Learner Blackman, Moses Floyd, Newet Vick, and Lorenzo Dow helped also missionize the area. By 1807, Rayville and Richland Parish did not exist but many ministers were starting to travel what would be called the “Washita Area.” The first Methodist Church in the area was in Prairie Jefferson, now known as Oak Ridge. At this time, travel was difficult as people dealt with mosquitoes, plague, few roads, and no bridges or ferries. Soon though, Richland Parish and the Bayou Macon area would become more settled as pioneers followed Indian trails and the waterways. Following the creation of the railroad, a “Richland Circuit” was established in 1868 by Methodists. Rev. John Boult was the first local preacher in 1868-70. In the early years, the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists rotated sharing a community building each week for worship. In 1875, the area Methodists put on a large tent Camp Meeting below Delhi and many others followed. By 1878, Rayville had about “…400 residents and had three organized churches but one house of worship, one school house, ten store houses, 1 steam gin and corn mill, 1 hotel, courthouse and jail, 2 physicians, 1 printing office, 5 resident lawyers…”(p50). Around that time, the Rayville saw a dramatic decrease in population because of a yellow fever epidemic and many pastors called for a time of repentance, fasting, and prayer. The first register of members for Rayville UMC was begun in 1887 and in 1891 the church purchased a deed for property under Rev. George Mandeville. With the help of many families and the work of the Ladies Aid Society the church was able to build a new church and parsonage around the turn of the century. By 1926, the church needed more room for Sunday school since the original building was completed. Records show the church grew to 239 members by 1932 even during hard economic times. By the 1940’s the church had paid off its debt and a conversation about building a new church started as membership grew to 466 by 1948. Around that time, Rev. Jack Midyett had a conversation with George Franklin and George offered to $2 for every $1 the church raised toward the building of a new church, with his part being $50,000. Under the leadership of Rev. Burton Emmerich, the new church sanctuary was built in 1952 and paid off by 1954. Total costs for construction were $139,217.85. In 1960, the church laid the cornerstone for a new Educational building and fellowship hall. During the 1970’s the church bought a second retired minister’s home, gave generously to support many mission projects, and started the Wednesday Morning Prayer Breakfast. In the 1980’s, a family life center was constructed. A new youth center was constructed in recent years and today we celebrate as rededicate the sanctuary and celebrate the hard work to prepare the community for the future. Thru the years, the members of Rayville UMC have offered their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to hundreds and hundreds of people changing countless lives! Programs have had different names whether it be the Wesleyan Service Guild, the United Methodist Men, the Epworth League, the Missionary Society Circle, or the Church of the Golden Arches but the mission remains the same! Yes, Rayville UMC has a rich PAST as evidenced by God’s work among us, is living into the PRESENT, and looking towards the FUTURE!
-background history given in sermon by Bro. John Kavanaugh at Rayville UMC Sunday, November 1st, 2015