Just ask the previous generation. Pay attention to the experience of our ancestors. For we were born but yesterday and know nothing. Our days on earth are as fleeting as a shadow. But those who came before us will teach you. They will teach you the wisdom of old. Job 8:8-10 (NLT)
The Ocilla Methodist church is what it is today because of the tireless efforts and sacrificial giving of the spiritual giants who preceded us.
According to an article in a 1916 issue of “The Ocilla Star”, the Ocilla Methodist Church was established in the year 1898 following the organization of the first Sunday School in Ocilla by the late J. F. King. The Sunday School was organized in 1897 with six families in attendance. He and the members of these families met in a small schoolhouse located on Seventh Street. The families that formed the nucleus of the first Sunday School, consisted of the King, Sweatt, Davis, Baker, Drew and Ward families. Mr. King served as superintendent of the Sunday School for five years. Because of Mr. King’s loyalty, faithfulness and persistence, the little Sunday School was a forerunner of the church today.
Mr. King was a devout Christian and a lifelong member of the Methodist Church. He came originally from Bennettsville, S.C., in the early 1890’s to live in Irwin County. He settled near Ocilla that, at the time, consisted of a turpentine camp and two stores.
Records indicate that the Rev. N. T. Palford, pastor of the Irwinville Mission, preached in the above mentioned school building once each month on Sunday afternoons during the year 1897. The church was organized the following year. History records the presence of Methodists in Irwin County as early as 1840. Historical records also show that Irwin County was at that time included in the Florida Conference. The Rev. Simon Peter Richardson served as Presiding Elder over a district that extended from Brunswick, GA as far south as St. Augustine, FL and westward from the Atlantic Ocean to Albany, GA.
In 1840 the Richardson Methodist Campground was incorporated by the Legislature and was named for the above-mentioned Presiding Elder. It was located in Irwin County, However, it was not until more than fifty years later that the little town of Ocilla had a formally organized Methodist Church.
In 1898 the Rev. E. F. Register was appointed pastor of the Mystic Mission. He also preached once each month in the little school building where the Ocilla Methodist Sunday School was held. It was under his leadership that the year the first Methodist Church was organized. The first church building was erected the same year after the arrival of the Rev. J. M. Bryan who served as the first regular pastor. The little church was made up of about twenty charter members, all coming from the six families which constituted the first Sunday School.
The first church building was located on the corner of Irwin Avenue and Seventh Street. The church is described in early church notes, “as a commodious frame building”. It served the membership of the Ocilla Methodist Church until the year 1912. (continued)
The first building was, at one time, shared temporarily with the Ocilla Baptists. Their church constituted approximately one year after the organization of the Ocilla Methodist Church, and until they could build a place of worship of their own in 1899, Sunday services were alternated between the two denominations. Both Baptist and Methodist attended all services. This was mutually helpful to both faiths since neither of the two could afford a full-time minister. The Methodist Church was also used by both denominations for church school services.
By the year 1912 the original church building could no longer adequately meet the needs of its members. Therefore, the congregation decided to sell it and build a new and larger house of worship. The original church still stands and is still being used.
In 1912, while the Rev. B. S. Sentell was serving the Ocilla Charge, the present brick structure was erected and occupied. It is located on the corner of Fourth and Beech Streets. This beautiful brick and granite structure was built under the able leadership of Mr. Melvin Paulk.
In 1950 construction was begun on an annex, including a large recreational-assembly hall, a kitchen, a chapel and a number of Sunday School classrooms. The total cost of the annex and equipment was $35,000. In 1951, after the completion of this addition, the entire church plant was conservatively valued at $80,000. Under the able leadership of the Rev. Tom A. Whiting, who came to Ocilla as pastor in 1949, funds were collected and the building was paid for in full at the time of its dedication in November 1950. Bishop Arthur J. Moore dedicated the building.
Extensive repairs and remodeling of the sanctuary of he educational buildings were begun in the summer of 1980 at a cost of some $23,500.
Project Facelift was begun in the fall of 2015 and included painting throughout the building, new flooring, and an extensive remodel of the kitchen and fellowship hall.
“Like a mighty army moves the Church of God," say the words of a well-loved hymn. So may the Ocilla United Methodist Church move forward in its mission for Christ, ever widening our horizons of service and becoming more deeply aware of the heritage and challenge which is ours. For only in this manner can our church continue to write its history in deeper and more meaning terms through its children and the generations that follow.