Union Memorial UMC
Saturday, November 16, 2019
Witnesses to the Love of God in Jesus Christ


Within this history will be found some of the experiences, growth and development of our High Street and Union Memorial United Methodist Church.

In the year of 1900, some foresighted Christians in the eastern section of Greensboro, North Carolina felt the need of a church in this area. With the help of God, they built a Brush Arbor on the corner of High and East Lee Streets. Rev. R. D. Bethea was the first minister. Some of those charter members were Celia Jefferies, Martha Farrington, Elizabeth Stanfield Levette, Cora Lytle, John Moffit, James Moffit, J. M. Suggs and wife Cora, and Irene Headen.

The idea of a permanent structure was initiated in a Sunday School Class at the Brush Arbor. High Street Church became a reality. The building was started by R.D. Bethea, and completed by Rev. A.H. McMasters. With continual growth, the group was led by Rev. W. T. Lomax, the first conference appointed pastor, then followed by Rev. D.C. Skeen.

High Street Church was a wooden frame building with a small pulpit and seating capacity of approximately 150. The choir stall was full when its twelve members were present. Coal was the means of heat. Members and friends responded to the sound of the bell as its call was heard especially on Sunday for services. People came to church two or three times on Sunday and certainly every Wednesday night for prayer meeting.

In 1911, Rev. J. A. Laughlin remodeled the church and installed a picture of “The Crucifixion” that was hung on the wall behind the choir. The next pastor sent was Rev. S. L. Peace and after him came Rev. Samuel May. Rev. May was famous as a great evangelist. The church was filled to capacity at each Sunday evening service. Following Rev. May was Rev. A. H. Newsome.

Different Ministers continued the work and added to the membership during the years. Rev. Edward Petty and Rev. W.C.L. Scarborough who lived in the first parsonage, which was purchased during his pastorate. The parsonage was located next to the church on High Street. Then Rev. Noah Black followed, whose interest was on the young people of the church. He was blessed with a large family.

The next minister was Rev. John W. Wells, who was a dynamic speaker, and his wife; Mrs. Ada Wells organized the Women’s Society of Christian Service and became the first president. The Women’s Society was organized by combining the Ladies Aid Society and The Women’s Home Missionary Society. During this time Mrs. Lena McMillan and Mrs. Elizabeth Foster was working with the youth of our church, the Brownies and Queen Esther Circles.

Under the leadership of the Rev. P.J. Cook, our Epworth League grew strong with his daughter Ada as coordinator. During this time, a contest between High Street and St. Stephen Congregational Christian Church, located on the corner of Gorrell and High Street, was begun. It seems that St. Stephen won more times than High Street. This money-raising event created a lot of enthusiasm, fellowship, and fun between the two churches. Rev. R.G. Morris was next, but his stay was short. Then came Rev. Cameron, who organized the young people in a group called the Triangle Club. This group remained the Triangle Club until the Women’s Society of Christian Service was organized and it became Circle No. 3. Today, this group has become a part of the two circles of the United Methodist Women.

Our next appointed minister was Rev. S.A. Peeler and Mrs. Peeler, who will be remembered for their deep concern for all members. They began our first confirmation classes.

Rev. P.I. Wells, a far-sighted leader, helped the members think in terms of another building. A lot in the 500 block of High Street was purchased. Professor Dawson, our organist at the time, played an important role in this endeavor. A building fund for a new church was started. Mr. J.P. Allen, a faithful member, left a love gift in his will toward making a new church a reality.

High Street Church was a beacon in the community and ministered to those who lived in its area. In 1947, Rev. W.E. Hairston was sent to High Street. A man whose lifestyle centered in the church and the community had no idea of the events that would challenge him in this new charge. He and his wife, Mrs. Katherine Hairston, became dynamically involved in helping to promote many activities that would swell the treasury of the building fund, already initiated by previous ministers. God’s will and goodness can be seen in every experience, however chaotic or traumatic it may appear at the time of the incidence.

It was Monday, April 16, 1951, the old structure collapsed while a funeral service was being held. God’s ways are divine – this misfortune made High Street nationally known. From the wide publicity received concerning the incident, hundred’s of people were in sympathy with the congregation and came to our rescue with financial support. Groups in the church along with Rev. Hairston and the community were inspired to do much toward getting another building. Mr. A.J. Hammond, who lived in Georgia, was the architect. Rev. J.E. Brower, the District Superintendent at the time, checked details for Mr. Hammond who became physically unable to carry out required duties. The building was progressing nicely when a new District Superintendent, Rev. G.M. Phelps became the one to work closely with Rev. Hairston until the completion. Bishop Alexander P. Shaw initiated plans to help finance the building. Members and friends were asked to memorialize their loved ones through financial giving. This effort proved to be quite successful. Because of the success of this unified effort, he suggested that the new church be named Union Memorial.

Many thanks were given to Dr. David D. Jones, president of Bennett College, who invited the congregation to worship in the Little Theatre on the campus until the completion of the building. The week of August 24-30, 1952, opening services were held. Various churches and their choirs were asked to give service during that week. Rev. G.M. Phelps, District Superintendent, and Bishop J. Edgar Love, Resident Bishop, were in attendance.

At that opening, Union Memorial, a colonial styled red brick structure with a seating capacity of 500, an educational department of 10 classrooms, an assembly room, a social room and kitchen – cost $56,000.00. These rooms were furnished by different groups in the church: Women’s Society, Methodist Men, Youth Fellowship, Children’s Organization, Choir, Usher Board, and Sunday School.

The opening service on Sunday, August 24th at 11:00A.M. featured Bishop Alexander P. Shaw of Baltimore, Maryland, who initiated the name of the church. Neighboring ministers, church choirs, and friends who participated in the opening services were:

Rev. G.M. Larken, Bethel A.M.E. Church Rev. M.P. Sawyer, Trinity A.M.E. Church

Rev. F.A. Hargett, St. Stephen Christian Church

Rev. S.A. Griffeth, New Light Baptist Church

Rev. J.E. Brower, St. Matthews Methodist Church

Rev. G.M. Phelps, District Superintendent of Greensboro District

We were very proud when we were asked to host, along with Bennett College, the Ninety-fourth session of the North Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Church, Central Jurisdiction NC, Virginia Conference.

In 1954, Rev. Hairston, having finished his work, took a Sabbatical.

Following Rev. Hairston came Rev. W.T. Brown, who was later appointed District Superintendent of the Greensboro District.

In 1957, Rev. Grandison M. Phelps came with a renewed effort to add to what he had helped start. The mortgage was paid off and the church redecorated. The redecoration included inside stairs to the social room, fire escape, and tile and carpet in the sanctuary. Different organizations took on various areas to beautify.

Mrs. Phelps, as a conference officer in the W.S.C.S, gave much guidance and council to the Women and organized the Wesley Service Guild.

One of our kindest pastors was Rev. L.A. Brown, who could always be relied on for council and personal help where necessary. The west property on Lee Street next to the Church was purchased. Rev. Brown became ill at our Watch Night service and later passed. Rev. J.W. Gwynn, who was our District Superintendent at the time, finished out the year.

Our next pastor was Rev. J.A. Ferree. He encouraged us to make plans for the purchase of a parsonage, since the former one had been demolished. He also pointed out the need for a larger church office. As the result, a parsonage was bought in King's Forest. The furniture was bought by the church and the redecoration was done by the Women’s Society of Christian Service. During his stay with us, the Methodist Church was merged with the Evangelical United Brethren Church and became the United Methodist Church. The W.S.C.S. was changed to the United Methodist Women. The first church directory was published under the leadership of Rev. Ferree. A man of such talent was offered a staff position in Charlotte, our church headquarters.

Under the pastorate of our next minister, Rev. Avery Robinson, the Usher Board bought and installed a much-needed stove and refrigerator. The United Methodist Women had cabinets installed in the kitchen and the floors in the kitchen and social room tile. Also during his stay, the pastor’s study was paneled, floor carpeted, shelves built, furniture bought,draperies at the windows, and a combination heat and air conditioner installed; all from the United Methodist Women.

With financial donations from the Usher Board, the thermal set and public address system was purchased. It was during this time that a Play School was started with the help of Women volunteers from Union Memorial and West Market Street Churches. Source for funds came from the fund for Reconciliation and West Market Street. The director of this project was Mrs. Susie Robinson, a devoted volunteer. Children found this ministry of love a happy experience. Mrs. Emma McAdoo and Mrs. Estelle Tatum later took over from Mrs. Robinson. A lead teacher, who was paid, directed the learning experience of the children.

Next came Rev. Andrew Brown. The Play School became a Kindergarten. During this period, the responsibility of running and the financing was assumed by Union Memorial and the Conference. Through a small fee paid by each child who could, a hot lunch was prepared and served. Certain foods were bought from the Urban Ministry food bank at a low price. He also saw that a newsletter was published regularly during his stay. A new parsonage was bought during the tenure of Rev. Glenn Lyles.

Rev. B.J. Jessup was the first pastor to live in this parsonage on Marboro Drive. During his ministry, our Chancel Choir seating was changed. Project Uplift was installed in our Social Room and remained until 1998. Rev. Jessup, Rev. Paul Milton, Rev. Albert Mills, Rev. Effie McClain, Rev. Shirley Canty, and Rev. Otto Harris all continue the religious growth of the church.

During the years, land around the church has been annexed. Mr. Alfred Waddell bought a back lot from the Foushee Family and donated it to Union Memorial, so that all the land from Bennett Street, brought from the Allens, to High Street within one lot on Bragg belongs to Union Memorial. The church van was purchased under the tenure of Rev. Paul Milton.

Mrs. Jacqueline Wright organized the first Liturgical Dance group in Greensboro. This group was invited to perform at one of the Annual United Methodist Conference. A Gospel Choir was organized by Mr. Sherman Williamson (renamed the Inspirational Choir). Also a Junior Usher Board and Tuesday Fellowship group was formed. These, along with the regular organizations of the church, have continued to exist and grow.

The influence of the High Street-Union Memorial United Methodist Church has been felt in other communities as we have sent ministers from this church. Former ministers were Norman Johnson, Eugene Black, Henry Minor, John Jones, Judge Whitted, Robert Johnson, I.C. Spinks, and Rodvegas Ingram. We feel blessed to be celebrating over 100 years of Spiritual commitment of Love and service to our community.

It is with deep appreciation and thanks to all who have shared in this history. There may be some errors and omissions, but we hope there are few.


Estelle W. Tatum

Emma McAdoo


Alexander Watson


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