Church History

celebrating 150 years

The following article appeared in the Tate Record on August 30, 2016. The article was written by Reporter Brett Brown. Used by permission.

There aren't many things around Tate County that can claim to be 150 years old.

That's exactly what Coldwater United Methodist Church is doing this year culminating with a celebration on Sunday, Oct. 9. The event starts with a fellowship at 2 p.m., followed by a celebration service at 3 p.m. and concludes with supper at 5 p.m.

Coldwater Methodist, which was actually formed in 1836, built its first formal church in 1866. The original structure still stands today at 558 Central Ave.

The celebration, which features a sermon by James B. Buskirk entitled "The Good News About You", is expected to be a homecoming of sorts for current and former members of the church.  

"We expect somewhere around 200 to 300 people," current pastor Rickey Haynes said. "We are very excited that Pastor Buskirk will be joining us. God is not through with this church and that's what his sermon will reflect."

It will definitely be a homecoming for Buskirk who preached at Coldwater United Methodist Church when he was in his early twenties from 1960 through 1962.

Buskirk was the first occupant of the Author J. Moore Chair of Evangelism at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta from 1972 through 1976, and was the founding dean of the School of Theology at Oral Roberts University from 1976 through 1984.

He served over 16 years as senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Okla. before retiring in 2011.

The longevity of Coldwater Methodist Church is amazing enough in itself, but to have the same organist for 48 years?

Tom McCormick, who is also the celebration committee chairman, started playing the organ at the church in 1969 and still does today. He is the son of James P. McCormick who was a teacher and academic dean at Northwest Community College for 42 years.

"There's a sweet spirit within this church," McCormick said. "Almost everyone that comes here says that."

One thing for certain about Coldwater United Methodist Church - it has stood the test of time.

The history of the church involves two sites - one in the "old town" of Coldwater and one in the "new town" of Coldwater. The "old town" of Coldwater was founded in 1856 and began as a village known as Elm Grove before being incorporated in 1872. The original town was located near where Highway 306 meets Interstate 55.

Coldwater Methodist was first mentioned in the Mississippi Conference Journal in 1835 as Coldwater Mission in the Chickasaw Mission District.

The church initially started in 1836 when W. Craig was appointed as pastor in the town's first church.

The church listed 223 white members in 1836. In 1839, the church grew to 353 members, including 74 blacks. The congregation grew to 525 people in 1841, with 50 black members. According to records obtained from the church, it is possible that those numbers included several small congregations from throughout the area.

During the Civil War, the townspeople of Coldwater met and held services in a small, one-room log schoolhouse. Sidney Blackburn donated a lot adjoining the schoolhouse after the war ended for the first church to be built in 1866.

The first church building, which laid the foundation for the building that still stands today, started out as a small, one-room structure that was painted white and included two doors in the front. The men entered the church through the left door, while the ladies used the right door. The building was initially lit by candles, but two chandeliers and pulpit lamps were added later.

According to church records, on Oct. 9, 1879, Coldwater Methodist pastor T.M. Ramsey reported to the New Orleans Christian Advocate that "crops are fair, both corn and cotton. Conference approaching, hope to report collections in full."

At a quarterly conference in 1889, a building committee was appointed to build a new church in the "old town" of Coldwater. The new church was dedicated in 1890 and went through a renovation in 1916. According to records, the church was considered one of the most beautiful in north Mississippi.

The red brick building with white trim included three entrances and was equipped with electric chandeliers, a pump organ, a furnace and classrooms. After the renovation, the church seated around 350 people.

Coldwater Methodist and its congregation faced a major dilemma in the 1930's.

According to church records, government engineers were dealing with the possibility of damming the Coldwater River for several miles from the "old town" of Coldwater to Arkabutla Reservoir. They discovered that a huge lake would form from the constructed dam and flood the town.

Many Coldwater citizens thought living behind a dyke would solve flooding problems and save their town, but the government quickly stepped in and deemed that idea unsafe.

That's when the "old town" of Coldwater, including the Methodist Church, was moved to its current location in 1942. That was the beginning of the "new town" of Coldwater.

According to records, E.W. Leplant Construction Company was in charge of moving the entire town, including the church, to its present location. A crew of around 24 men placed screwjacks and housejacks at the foundations of buildings and slowly raised them. A graduated movement was necessary to prevent the plaster from cracking in each of the dwellings.

Long pieces of wood were placed under the buildings and placed on steel wheels. Dollies were used to move the buildings along a road made especially for transport. Wires attached to the buildings were used to keep them sturdy.

The Methodist church and water tower were the two largest structures moved to the new town. The 50,000-gallon, 90-feet tall water tower was easier to move than the Methodist church, according to records.

H.E. Finger, who later became a bishop, was the first pastor at the new location in 1942 at a time when Methodist and Baptists worshipped together. According to church records, Bishop Finger joined the Navy during World War II and announced to the congregation from the pulpit "I'm giving up a little bit of heaven for a whole lot of hell."

Coldwater Methodist has undergone several renovations and additions during its stay on Central Ave. in Coldwater.

An outdoor bulletin board, which still stands in front of the church today, was erected in 1967. In 1976, a new fellowship hall was built along with a kitchen. The new addition also included the remodeling of Sunday school rooms.

Coldwater United Methodist Church has been through plenty of adversity and change in its 150 years. One thing that has remained a constant for its current membership of 108 is the people according to Pastor Haynes.

"The faithfulness of the people of this church has always impressed me," Haynes said. "Their desire to see God's work done in the community and their generosity is amazing. What we are celebrating represents years but even more than that it represents the number of the people that have been touched by this congregation in the time it's been here."

Haynes and McCormick again touched on the theme for the 150-year celebration "God is not through with this church yet".

No, God isn't done with Coldwater United Methodist Church. Thanks to the perseverance and spirit of its congregation, past and present, God might be just getting warmed up.