Wells celebrates 80 years in ministry


Special to the Advocate

The neighborhood where Wells Memorial United Methodist Church was founded has changed, but not the church’s commitment.


On June 4, the church celebrated its 80th anniversary of serving a “ministry of presence” to those in its community.


The church was established in 1926 as Glendale Methodist Church. In 1948 the name of the church was changed to honor the memory of longtime pastor, the Rev. J. A. Wells, who was killed in an automobile accident.


The church was the inspiration of God through Mr. and Mrs. C.S. Weir, who moved to Jackson in the mid-1920s. They were residents of the Glendale Street area who desired a place of worship in their own neighborhood. Mrs. Weir made a survey of the community and found many other Methodists who felt the same way. She called the Rev. C. E. Downer, who was living in Jackson and who had been their pastor before coming to Jackson. Downer enlisted the aid of the Rev. Lloyd DeCelle, the district superintendent, and the first organizational meeting was held Nov. 21, 1926, with 76 members.


As the membership grew, the church moved from meeting in homes to holding services in Galloway Elementary School, across the street. Downer became the first pastor and remained there for four years. During his period as pastor, the church was built. Bertie Wright, who was a charter member, gave the first $25 donation towards the building fund, and Mrs. Weir and Linnie Wright recruited various churches and organizations throughout the city for funds, furniture and equipment of any kind for the church and parsonage. Ground breaking for the building was held in the fall of 1927, and work on the brick veneer building was begun.


Pastors who have served at Wells Church include the Rev. C.E. Downer, the Rev. A.V. Barry, the Rev. J.A. Wells, the Rev. R.E. Case, the Rev. L.P. Anders, the Rev. H.T. Lanrum, the Rev. William Waugh, the Rev. Raymond Wesson, the Rev. Russell Gilbert and the Rev. Keith Tonkel, who has ministered at the church since 1969.


Wells Church is actively involved in its low-income neighborhood through its association with Operation Shoestring and Habitat for Humanity, its commitments to the children, faculty and staff of Galloway Elementary School and to the support of a parish/community nurse.


While many attending Wells Church are lifelong Methodists, the church also appeals to people from other faith traditions, as well as serving as a "point of re-entry" into a more spiritual life for persons who have felt disaffected with organized religion and those whose walks with God have been interrupted.


In 1984 the church building was badly in need of renovation. As the renovation program began, a friend of the church offered to organize a festival to help raise money for the project. Church members agreed that a festival would make an interesting project, but decided that the proceeds should go to some other worthy service organization. Now in its 22nd year, WellsFest has become a major community event, held on the last Saturday in September each year. It has generated more than $500,000 for a wide range of nonprofit service organizations and activities.


The anniversary celebration included services at 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., followed by dinner on the grounds. After the dinner, a portrait of the sanctuary by local artist, Ron Lindsey, was dedicated and prints are now available for sale.


The portrait will be available for purchase at this year's WellsFest auction Sept. 30, and all proceeds from the original and the prints will be donated to Christians in Action, this year's WellsFest benefactor. Christians in Action has provided shelter and medical care to abused and neglected children since 1977.


Among the celebrants at Wells for the 80th anniversary was "The Old Wells Group," some of the original and earliest members of the church who continue to meet together twice a year.