MARIETTA — For 100 years, Maple Avenue United Methodist Church in Marietta has been a place for neighbors to gather in worship and fellowship.
The church at the corner of Maple Avenue and Locust Street recently celebrated its 100th anniversary with a special service and reception.
The Rev. Joshua Roberts, who took over as lead pastor earlier this year, said the church has grown, but its mission remains the same.
Roberts moved to Marietta along with his wife, Loren, and their two young children, James and Elizabeth. He previously served as pastor at Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford, Georgia.
“It has been one of the greatest blessings of our life,” Roberts said. “We’ve been welcomed with such warmth here in Marietta, and I get to stand on the shoulders of strong people who have been here before us to lay strong foundations. And just being able to reach out to this neighborhood and the greater community has been a blessing. It’s interesting to see what God has in store for us in the years to come.”
According to church documents, the people of Marietta were moved to build the new church following a tent revival on the present site of the First Presbyterian Church parking lot.
The Revs. E.J. Hammond, E.E. Cavalier and W.L. Hampton from Methodist Episcopal Church kept the Gospel going for three weeks, and during the third week, people said the Holy Spirit came down and moved in a mighty way.
“It was reported that 70 people accepted Christ, and some were so led by the Holy Spirit to shout and sing,” reads the church history. “Out of this great revival, the Maple Avenue Episcopal Church was founded.”
The church was founded with 36 charter members, including one Ethel Gregg. Gregg’s granddaughter, Revonda Boykin, told the MDJ Gregg had been kicked out of her previous church for wearing a red dress on Sunday, so she and some other women decided to throw their weight behind forming a new church.
“They went to the Episcopal Church to ask for funding to build this church and they were denied, so they went to the John Wesley Foundation, and they got assistance from the John Wesley Foundation. … And it all started because Granny was kicked out of the church for wearing a red dress,” she said.
Boykin started attending at Maple Avenue in the 1940s. She said it was a great place to grow up.
“We loved singing, and my goodness, we’d get to singing downstairs and sing so loud that the preacher would come over, then, the parsonage was right next door,” she said. “He’d come over and say ‘We received a phone call, y’all are going to have to quiet down.”
Boykin said she had many fond memories of the friends she made in church.
“We had the best basketball team in the county, then we had the best softball team in the county, we played ping-pong, we just did everything,” she said. “And guess what happened? Those kids who all came here and worshiped together decided to marry, and those kids became the future of Maple Avenue Church, and they’re still here today.”
Gene Davenport’s grandfather, A.L. Davenport, was another founding member. He said if it weren’t for Maple Avenue Church, his parents never would have met.
“Dad went off to the war back in the Second World War and had a battlefield conversion,” he said. “He promised to God that if he would live through it, then he would come back and serve the rest of his life. I’m proud to say he did.”
Davenport said the lessons he learned in that church still stick with him today.
“Dad made us attend Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, any other time the church was here, but I was 35 years old before I actually gave my heart to the Lord,” he said. “I always remember Proverbs 22:6, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he’s old, he’ll not depart from it.’”
Over the years, the church has grown in size and membership with a series of lead pastors. In Sunday’s anniversary service, the current pastor, the Rev. Roberts read from an advertisement taken out by the church in the Oct. 17, 1919, edition of the Marietta Daily Journal listing the young church’s service times and describing its creed.
“The public will find a cordial welcome at all these services: ‘Only once a stranger here,’” Roberts read. “For those of you who are back here today to celebrate this and those of you who worship at Maple Avenue every week, may we all do our best that our faith is lived out in such a way that everybody we meet is important enough that they’re only once a stranger.”
One big way the church is doing that is by offering new programs for children and their parents, Roberts said. When he was brought on, he began giving a special children’s sermon during Sunday service, where all the kids come front and center to hear a special message before returning to their youth programs.
Roberts said his primary goal is to continue to meet the needs of the neighborhood around the church, just as it has been doing for a century.
“We’re going to continue to do what this church has done well in the past, and that’s to be a big presence here in this historic community that we’re located in,” he said. “That’s been one of the things that’s made the church what it is in the past, what it is today, and what we hope it will be in the future.”