On Sunday, March 10, 1956, Wynnewood Park Methodist Church had its first service in the office building of the Sol Kaplan Dairy Barn. The church began with 32 charter members. Thirty-five chairs were donated from Edenton Street United Methodist Church. Jenkins Memorial Methodist Church ran off the worship service bulletins and also donated chairs and doors, two of which were used for the front entrance. Hymnals were donated by the Raleigh District of the Methodist Church.
The Reverend Ernest C. Durham was appointed to serve as the first pastor of the church until the North Carolina Annual Conference in June. During his time at Wynnewood, he wrote the following poem about the church:
A New Church in a Barn
The Saviour of men was born in a barn,
So back to the barn we go
To begin a new church in the Saviour’s name,
And we’re sure it will rapidly grow;
Right near it are built some fifty new homes–
Just as modern as new homes can be;
Six hundred more homes are soon to be built,
And then what a church we shall see…
From that barn through the years pure milk was dispensed,
For the good of man’s body and bone;
But now from that barn the Gospel goes out,
Concerning the Christ on His throne;
So the barn has served well, and twill server through the years
For the body, the soul, and mind.
It will serve at its best as it helps young and old
The true Christian pathway to find.
Church services remained in the office building while remodeling was done to the dairy barn, which had not been used for 8 years. The Reverend Barney Davidson and the Cary Methodist Church prepared the barn and aided in its remodeling. The outside was painted white, while the inside was painted yellow and given new flooring. The men of the church met almost every afternoon, just after returning from their days work, and faithfully worked until sometime in the night in order to get into the sanctuary as quickly as possible.
On May 13, 1956, the first service was held in the new sanctuary–just two months after the first worship service that was held in the office room of the Sol Kaplan Dairy Barn. Guest Day was celebrated on May 20, 1956 where visitors offered special music. This day was for friends, relatives and interested people to visit the church and see the progress made.
On its dedication on June, 23, 1956, Reverend Davidson reminded the congregation that the barn church was only temporary, and that a church must concern itself with more important things than a building. “We must deal with an eternal thing–the soul,” he said. Reverend Davidson painted the portrait of Christ that still hangs in our church today. Sol Kaplan announced that he would be donated 4 and 6/10 acres of land for the new church building which would be centered in a housing development he was planning in the area.
Raleigh native Reverend Jack Crum was appointed as Wynnewood’s first regular pastor. His first sermon at Wynnewood was entitled, “The Church of the Way.” Reverend Crum was a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, in 1951 and then taught in the public school system for a year before entering Duke Divinity School.
Reverend Crum became known for promoting integration in churches, often inviting black speakers to services. He exchanged pulpits with black ministers on Sundays, and insisted that the church be open to all people. This caused a rift between the congregation and Mr. Kaplan, who was concerned about how this would affect the development of his land. He withdrew an offer of a lot for the church. He later renewed his offer, given that the church be renamed after his wife’s family. Because the church longed for a reconciliation with the Kaplans, the congregation agreed.
However, it wasn’t long before Mr. Kaplan withdrew his offer again after Reverend James Lawson, a black minister, and the Southern Regional Secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, spoke at an evening service in August. Faced with the problem of what to do about a new lot, charter members Mr. and Mrs. W.L. Martin stepped in and gave two acres of their land to the church, and the church bought three more to total five acres on the corner of Avent Ferry and Crest roads.
The church continued to meet in the barn until the first 5,000 sq. ft. unit was built in 1960. The cost of this first unit was about $40,000, and consisted of five large classrooms, a fellowship hall that was also used as a sanctuary, an office, and restrooms. The plans for the first building were overseen by Architect James Ward in Durham, the Bishop’s consultant on church buildings. Ray Ritchie was the chairman of the building committee.
After Reverend Crum was assigned to another church, the property at 3406 Avent Ferry Road was purchased as a parsonage.
In 1988, an addition was built to the rear of the fellowship hall. The construction was overseen by Ray Ritchie, and the addition was built with the volunteer help of the congregation, as well as members from other churches. Annette Bingham was responsible for lining up the volunteers through The Conference Volunteers in Missions program. The addition was completed with a budget of about $70,000.
Through the years, Wynnewood Methodist Church, after changing name in the 1980’s to the now Avent Ferry United Methodist Church, has continued to grow, and has remained a congregation that is truly committed to having open hearts, open doors, and open minds. Our church motto is WINS: Worship, Invite, Nuture, Serve.
At one of his last board meetings, Reverend Crum asked members to write down what made their church meaningful to them. Some of their quotes were:
“A call to personal commitment and emphasis on real dedication”
“Deepening of your own Christian experience”
“Church has been unafraid to discuss and act on controversial things”
“having everyone work and take part in the church work”
“the close fellowship in which people have and enthusiasm for the welfare of others”
“the love of one another among members has brought a feeling of real fellowship”
63 Years later the “little church on the hill” still stands as a beacon.