A 270-year-old church with one member
In the woods 18 miles north of Columbia, SC, sits an aging church, reported to have a congregation of but a single individual. Thieves have stolen the copper tubing from its air conditioning unit, making services throughout a good part of the year quite uncomfortable.
Yet, Cedar Creek Methodist Church, metaphorically speaking, soldiers on.
The church dates back to 1743, when it began as a German Reformed branch of Presbyterianism called the German Protestant Church of Appii Forum, and was one of 15 German churches in interior South Carolina.
The congregation met in a 16-foot-by-20-foot structure constructed of logs with a dirt floor.
The congregation is said to have been converted to Methodism in a single day by famed Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury shortly after the end of the American Revolution.
In 1771 Asbury volunteered to travel to America. When the American Revolution began in 1775, Asbury was the only Methodist minister to remain in America.
After war’s end, Wesley named Asbury one of two “co-superintendents” in America, marking the beginning of the “Methodist Episcopal Church of the USA.”
For the next 32 years, Asbury led all the Methodists in America, preaching wherever a crowd assembled. He rode an average of 6,000 miles a year for the remainder of his life, preaching nearly every day.
In 1791, Asbury was in central South Carolina, en route to Richmond from Charleston. He spent the night at the home of a local landowner, and was given a jug of homemade wine on his departure the next morning.
His travels took him to the “Cedar Creek Meeting House,” as the church, by now a larger and better-built structure, was then known.
Supposedly “invigorated” with the homemade wine, Asbury is said to have “preached with such vigor and conviction that he converted the entire congregation from the Presbyterian faith to Methodism,” according to a 1982 text titled North of the Broad River: The Land and Its People.
Cedar Creek Methodist Church thrived for many decades afterward, but in the 20th century it was hurt by the trend which saw rural areas such as that which surrounds the church suffer from depopulation.
With younger people long since having migrated to cities such as Columbia, Charlotte and Atlanta, the church has fallen on hard times.
With a dwindling congregation, there is no money to repair the air-conditioning system. The building is increasing dilapidated and parts of the cemetery are overgrown.
Yet, according to at least one individual who lives not too far from Cedar Creek Methodist, the powers that be have no plans to close the church, and even send a minister once a month to hold services, despite the tiny congregation.
The reason: There is no way they’re going to close a church that Francis Asbury converted to the fold.
(Top: View of Cedar Creek Methodist Church from its cemetery.)