A Brief History of Aldersgate 1954 Through 2020
By: Fred J. Hoyle, Church Historian
In the early 1950’s a six acre cotton field in west Shelby lay to the south of West Dixon Boulevard, a newly built bypass for our growing city. World War II had ended in 1945 and the Korean War in 1953. Returning veterans were ready to enjoy life and they began building homes in Shelby’s suburbs. Church was important to these growing young families.
In the summer of 1954, Dr. Jim Higgins, pastor of Central Methodist Church, was on his way to a Gastonia district meeting. In the car with him were Horace Grigg, Carlo Self, and Edwin Ford. He began a discussion about the possible need of a new suburban church in Shelby. The conversation was filled with excitement and on September 28, 1954 at 7:30 a group of surrounding church persons met at Central to determine if there was a need. When 52 people agreed to become members of the new church Rev. C. W. Kirby, District-Superintendent led them through an organizational meeting. Caro Self was elected Secretary and all stewards attending were elected to serve on the official board. A delegate was elected to attend the Annual Conference at Lake Junaluska to request the appointment of a minister to the church. This was only the second new church added to the Gastonia district in 75 years.
What started out as an exciting possibility was now a reality. The cabinet called back into service W. Baxter Davis to serve as minister. The church members were pleased and quickly rented a three room apartment on Marion St. for him and furnished it.
A bond began to grow among the energetic members as they worked together and welcomed new members. On October 3, 1954 a service was held in Lutz-Austell Chapel and 88 people were present. The second service had 93 people present. The church was growing!
In October arrangements were made with Shelby City Schools to use Graham School on Oak Street. On October 17, 1954 church services began and on October 24 Sunday school classes were started.
Discussions began to choose a name for the new church. The name Aldersgate was chosen. That name implies that like John Wesley, this church does trust in Christ.
Aldersgate organized its Methodist Youth Fellowship October 27, 1954 and Wednesday night prayer meetings began. More friendships and bonding came from these activities.
The women of Aldersgate held fast to the Methodist Church tradition of mission. The Women’s Society of Christian Service installed its first officers on January 10, 1955.
Mrs. Hazel Laidlaw was elected president. This group bonded in friendship and became a vital force in the fund-raising needs of Aldersgate. They tirelessly baked, held bazaars and rummage sales. Countless chicken pie suppers paid many of Aldersgate’s bills.
The Aldersgate charter stayed open until May of 1955 and closed with one hundred sixty two persons. Many fundraisers and what Edwin Ford called “Begging events” took place and enough funds were raised to purchase the six acre cotton field on West Dixon Boulevard.
In September of 1955, Reverend Harley Dixon was appointed as pastor. When Reverend Dixon’s appointment was finalized, he and his wife Inez made their first trip to Shelby and met Edwin Ford. Always a gracious host, Edwin led them on a tour of the cotton field. He shared Aldersgate’s plans for the future, as a few rabbits scurried by while they meandered through the remains of that year’s cotton crop.
Harley had a few questions moments later. “You say you are getting ready to build a parsonage on this lot. That’s good. How much will it cost and how much money do you have on hand?” Edwin replied, “Oh we don’t have any money, but the Men’s class is going to pay for the parsonage. And the lot is paid for.” Edwin went on to explain that architects were at work and drawings were well on their way for a Fellowship Hall and an Education Building. Harley later called this appointment “a field of dreams.” He soon fell in love with these dreamers.
In March of 1956 the parsonage was completed. The Baxter Davis Class assumed responsibility for paying off the loan. The first revival was conducted during the week of March 8. And on Easter, April 1, Katie Walker and Jimmy Davis were married at the new parsonage. The new church was growing in endearment to the congregation and the members began visiting and inviting their neighbors.
In April 1956 with a lot of faith from First Federal Bank, Aldersgate borrowed $60,000 and began building the Fellowship Hall, now the Wesley Building and the educational wing. The church now had 185 members. A 24 hour prayer vigil was held prior to the first worship service in the new fellowship hall. January 6, 1957 was a magical day. Dr James Higgins preached. His subject was “The Miracle of Common Will”. Seventeen children were baptized and five new members were received. The fellowship hall resembled the Lutz-Austell chapel with its beams and open wood ceiling. The music sounded amazing in there, and Aldersgate began to make history with its great choirs.
The new fellowship hall brought many opportunities. One of the first was forming Boy Scout troop #9 and a Cub pack, followed by a Brownie troop for girls. Then with a good place to meet, a Methodist Men’s group was organized. The building’s little kitchen opened the door for monthly Wednesday evening fellowship dinners. Sunday evening services began and attendance was good.
All these new activities brought growth and in a year and nine months after moving into the new building, construction of the adult classroom and office wing began. The new building was occupied in August, 1959. The church now had 335 members with 243 enrolled in Sunday school.
As membership increased, the congregation dreamed of a sanctuary. In 1964, a sanctuary fund was started. At the end of a three year crusade, $ 104,000 in pledges had been made. The church had grown to 442 members. On Easter Sunday, April 23, 1967 the congregation processed from the Fellowship Hall to the new sanctuary. Some ladies wore there Easter Bonnets and a few shed tears thinking about the journey from the old Graham School, October 17, 1954 to the beautiful new sanctuary, April 23, 1967.
The new sanctuary was the last building in the original concept of a campus setting. The building’s interior is bright and beautiful. With skylights in the peak of the ceiling, light from the heavens pours in. A new concept at that time for a building with wood beams and an exposed wood ceiling. The area is vastly open and colorful, with stained glass high above the floor at both ends and in the windows along the side walls. Light colored brick work covers most of the interior walls and dark colored wood beams sweep in a gentle arc from the peak of the ceiling to the blue carpeted floor.
Now the congregation of 442 members could worship in a beautifully holy place, while the fellowship hall was always ready for fun and games and covered dish events. There was a sense of pride in our church and it felt more like a big family than ever. In 1975, the church began to sponsor prayer meetings in individual’s homes. These were usually small neighborhood groups. Rev. Page suggested that a group over the age of 50 might enjoy planning and doing things together. This idea gave birth to the “young at Hearts.”
The church campus became a busy place and in 1988, a new parsonage was built off campus on Wesson road. The old parsonage was converted to adult Sunday school use.
Aldersgate continued to grow and in 1993, The Family life Center, now Epworth building was built. The old parsonage was moved, and the old fellowship hall was converted into classrooms. “Alive in Faith” was the name of the capital fund drive that made it happen. Aldersgate members once again responded with sacrificial giving and joyful hearts. The new building gave Aldersgate a commercial kitchen, stage and additional classrooms. It also serves as a place where Aldersgate can do mission work for the surrounding community.
Plans for a prayer garden were finalized in 2005. It was a beautiful place from the beginning and remained a work in progress for a while. Then in 2010 the columbarium was built beside it. Now a very sacred place sits in the middle of our campus.
Building and keeping our place of worship in good repair has always been important to Aldersgate’s members. In 2010, “Here we grow again” raised funds to renovate and build additions to the existing buildings. Spacious bathrooms, a gathering area, enlarged choir room, and nursery were added to the sanctuary. The bathrooms in the educational buildings were all redone. Now they are modern and convenient. The adult and office wing is now an administration building with work rooms and conference rooms.
Windows were replaced in all the classrooms and all the outside walkways have new lighting. The playground is new and safe. The Aldersgate campus looks as if it is new.
The charter members who have passed on would be proud of the present members of Aldersgate, and this is still a field of dreams.