Historical Concord church celebrating bicentennial
By Julleanna Seely
For anyone interested in Sussex County history, Concord, Del. boasts a rich background.
While it is now only a small suburb east of Seaford, Concord served as an iron ore production hub and large shipping center on the Nanticoke River in its glory days of the late 18th and early 19th century.
It was during that time, exactly 200 years ago this August, that a unique part of Concord’s history came into existence when Concord Methodist Church was first established on the site where an active church still stands. This gives Concord significance again as home to the oldest continuously operating church in Delaware.
“Back when the church began, this was a bustling area,” said Rev. Diane Melson, who has presided as pastor for the last few years. “This church is a family chapel, but it’s been very integral in the community. It has been the center of the community since the 1800’s, and it still is.”
The church has been rebuilt twice since the opening of its doors in 1804, just over two decades after the founding of the U.S. Constitution and the end of the Revolutionary War. The present sanctuary was built in 1870 but has been modified several times along the way with additions that include stained glass windows and a vestibule.
“It certainly is a beautiful church,” 12-year member Harry Seipp said. “We think it’s one of the prettiest churches around with its stained glass windows.”
Concord United Methodist Church will celebrate its 200th anniversary with numerous special services throughout the year as well as activities like the May Day Plants and Yard Sale on May 1, Historical/Vintage Car and Tractor Show on June 26, and the 200 Year Heritage Celebration on Aug. 22.
Much has changed for the church in the last 200 years including the institution of numerous community outreach programs, the coming and going of dozens of pastors, several renovations, and the addition of a cemetery, community house, educational building and bell tower.
Most recently, in June 2003 Melson became the first full-time pastor of the church. Before that she and other pastors had a three-point charge, which meant they had three different churches they pastored at one time as circuit-preachers.
Local outreach and ministry
Though the church and the community are fairly small, Concord U.M.C. stays active with its ministry and outreach programs
“The church spirals up in ministry; it’s always getting better,” Melson said.
For instance, the Concord Community House, located just behind the church, is used by locals for aerobics classes, baby and bridal showers, and parties.
The church has a mission outreach in which they provide meals for people in the community with a need. They work through the Shipley Service Center, who screens calls, and regularly have food drives. Additionally the church keeps a fund to help pay electric and heating bills.
The church’s Home Touch Ministry is an outreach to those who are homebound, in the hospital, or in a nursing home. Church members call, visit and send notes.
As for worldwide outreach, the church sends a monthly stipend to a Russian missionary.
“They spread their ministry through service,” Melson said of church members.
As of early this year, Concord U.M.C. had 111 official members with about 60 to 85 of those attending weekly.
The youth are an active part of the church’’s ministry as well. They regularly participate in Youth Sundays, which allows the young people to serve as ushers, greeters, and readers of the Scripture passages.
The youth held a yard sale some time ago and gave all the money earned to the Seaford Mission.
“We try to make children feel a part of every service,” Melson said.
Couple remembers years gone by
“This is the only church I’ve ever belonged to,” Marian Hearn, a resident near Concord and member of the church since 1950, said. “The people that where there when I joined are all gone now, but I remember them vividly.”
She recalled how welcomed she felt when she first moved to the area with her husband Ned and began attending the church where he had attended Sunday School as a child. Ned was even christened at the church when he was born in 1918.
“It’s a rural church. You know all the families and all their names,” Marian Hearn said. She and Ned have known several families with three generations that have attended Concord U.M.C.
“A lot of people in Concord are members of the church. It’s kind of a community affair. A lot are related; it’s like one big family,” Harry Seipp said.
One of the Hearn’s earlier memories of Concord church was in the early 1950’s when the men and women sat on separate sides of the church. The couple took it upon themselves to break the tradition.
“We were the first couple to sit together on Sunday,” Marian Hearn said with a smile.
Throughout the years, the couple was actively involved in the church. On top of teaching Sunday School for more than 20 years and serving as secretary and treasurer for several years, Marian Hearn was an instigator in raising money for the bell tower to be built. The bell still rings today.
Though the couple is not as active in the church as they were in their younger years, they still attend regularly and support the current ministries.
“I definitely do see this church continuing to have an impact on the community,” Marian Hearn said.
“What really shows about this church is that when I was sick last month, two couples that I taught (Sunday School) before they were married stopped by and brought me supper. It’s a caring congregation.”
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