A SYNOPTIC HISTORY OF GRACE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Allan D. Charles, Ph.D.
The full-length history of the church was written by Fannie Lee Sparks in 1973, and she wrote a revised, second edition in 1989. I am indebted to her for most of the material which follows.
Early Methodism in Union County was started by the great Methodist missionary Francis Asbury himself, who made five visits to this county between 1788 and 1802. He apparently did not preach in what is now the city of Union, but courthouse records state that there was a “new” Methodist church on what is now North Enterprise Street by 1826. This wooden building was turned over to a black congregation after 1873 andwas demolished by1893, when the Union Cotton Mill offices were built on the site.
Even prior to the War Between the States, local Methodists were talking about constructing a new building. The war and the hard times immediately afterwards caused this aspiration to be postponed until 1871, when work was actually commenced on the new, stone structure. The granite was furnished free by church member Benjamin Dudley Culp who had it taken out of his own rock quarry at the end of May Street in the northern part of the city of Union. For his generous donation Culp was given the privilege of renaming the church, since the new church building was in a different location on the east side of South Church Street. Choosing the name “Grace,” Culp declared: ”She shall be called ‘Grace,’ and may she never fall from Grace.”
The building committee was headed by Colonel John L. Young, church member, businessman, and builder of the Union and Spartanburg Railroad. Actual construction was superintended by James Grant, who later built Central School. The land on which the church and cemetery came to be located was donated by A. W. Thomson (father of Confederate surgeon A. Wallace Thomson, after whom the local hospital is named) and Henry Laurens Goss.
Worship services were held in the new church as early as 1872, although the edifice was not actually completed until 1873. It took another decade before the belfry tower was added to the left, front corner of the building. There already was a shorter tower in the center of the front façade. The church is modified gothic in design with beautiful stained glass windows and a barrel-vaulted nave over the sanctuary. The solid oak pews are stained dark.
During the World War I years a major expansion and renovation occurred under the pastorship of Rev. John Wesley Speake, and services were held in the old Union High School building auditorium. When completed in 1919 the church looked as it does today. The center tower on the front was gone, and the belfry tower was taller and with a low roof. The right side of the sanctuary had been bumped out and a new section of pews added. The new section has a full basement, new rooms on the main floor for a parlor, choir room, and Sunday school classes, and a top floor with more rooms and a balcony overlooking the sanctuary from the side. So well were the granite blocks matched, cut, and mortared into the original structure that the addition to the building is virtually seamless.
A quarter of million dollar Sunday school wing and recreation hall was completed in 1964. This grey, granite structure blends well with the main building, to which it is connected by an arcade.
John Tate Bradley served as organist-choirmaster of Grace from 1945 to 1978. No one was prouder than he when a new Casavant organ was dedicated in 1968. It has 21 stops, 28 ranks, and 1476 pipes.
There are four stained glass windows on the left side of the nave. The first one, nearest the doors, displays the crown and cross, upon which streams celestial light.
The second one depicts an anchor symbolizing hope and fundamental truth. The anchor was popular with early Christians, possibly because its transverse bar makes it resemble a cross.
The third depicts the tablets upon which were engraved the Ten Commandments , setting forth the moral laws for both Jews and Christians.
The fourth window is known as the Holy Bible window with the open book indicating the Bible is accessible to all. It is a memorial to Mary Elizabeth Greer, made by her sister, Cornelia Greer Walker.