Centenary Methodist Church Celebrates 200th Anniversary with Dedication of New Home for 150-Year-Old Church Bell

By Jeremy Coumbes on October 25, 2022 at 1:36pm

After nearly a quarter century, a familiar site is back on East State Street in Jacksonville.

Centenary United Methodist Church held a special ceremony last weekend to commemorate not only a major anniversary but the rehanging of the congregation’s beloved 150-year-old church bell.

Terri Benz, Music Director and member of the bicentennial committee, says plans have been in the works for a number of years to erect a new gateway in front of the church to get the old church’s bell back outside where it belongs.

The church was in about three different locations before it ended up where it is now at 331 West State Street. That was in 1866 and it was at that time that a bell was purchased to hang in that new building.

Since then we built a new building on the same spot. But we’ve had that bell for 150 years now, and it’s been sitting in our narthex, or lobby area, ever since the last building was torn down. The circle that I belong to called the Heaven’s Sake Circle really wanted to get that bell hung again.”

Benz says Centenary Methodist is actually in its 201st year, but the full celebration plans were put on hold during the pandemic. She says the “For Heaven’s Sake” group of which she is a member, had wanted to see the bell back outside for quite some time when they began the effort.

There were plans that had been drawn up by one of our members who happened to be my dad, Dale Wooldridge. After he passed, we found his plans and had a beautiful archway fabricated on East State Street in front of the church to hang the bell once again.

Last weekend was our big 200th celebration and at the closing of our worship service on Sunday morning, we all went outside to the new archway where the bell is hung and we had a dedication ceremony for it.”

Birdsell Machine & Ornamental of Jacksonville constructed the archway that sits atop the pair of brick pillars that now hold the bell. Benz says although the arch is a smaller version of the downtown arches, the most recent one standing just up East State Street from the church, it was a happy accident that the two were of similar design and installed around the same time.

Benz says it was also by chance that the entryway and East State Street renovation projects were underway at the same time. She says the Centenary congregation is very thankful the city helped with pouring the concrete while the city’s new sidewalks were being installed.

Centenary United Methodist Church began on October 17th, 1821, and played an integral part during the formation of what would eventually become MacMurray College in the 1840s.