About 1,200 members attend one of three Sunday morning services at First United Methodist Church.
There’s an 11-acre North campus dedicated to the Children’s Development Ministry. And there’s Coastal Samaritan Counseling Center.
And a thrift store open two days a week.
Several community organizations including Helping Hand and Associated Charities were started by the church.
There are more than a dozen Sunday school classes for children, youth and adults.
There are men’s and women’s prayer groups, caregivers’ support groups, choirs, meetings, and all the things anyone’d expect from an established church.
And senior pastor George K. Howle [pronounced “Owl,”] says the reason the church has not just survived, but grown, for an entire century, is because it’s “mission-minded.”
Pastor emeritus Thomas “Big Tom” Brittain, says “It’s a friendly, responsive church.”
Octogenarian Marion Bellamy, who was raised in the church and raised his own kids there as a single father, says, “I don’t know what I would have done without this church.”
The church is having a huge brouhaha on Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. to celebrate its 100-year anniversary.
Festivities will include worship at 10 and lunch under tents on the lawn from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., with indoor seating for those the invitation describes as “lawn-challenged.”
Music will be provided by Anew Praise Band, and there’ll be children’s activities including a bouncy house and Mr. Softee, along with speeches, back-slaps and a whole lot of memories.
First United Methodist Church has not only a long, but an impressive history, filled with milestones.
Largely compiled by the late church historian Blanche W. Floyd, who passed away in 2008, those highlights began in 1900.
1900 - A Methodist Church was organized in Myrtle Beach, with people meeting in homes;
1915 - Seven families met in the Myrtle Beach Farms Company Store for a service led by Socastee Church’s Rev. E. F. Scroggins;
1919 – Myrtle Beach Methodist Church was officially recognized by the Methodist Episcopal Church SC Annual Conference, 19 years before Myrtle Beach incorporated as a town;
1920 – Present property donated by Myrtle Beach Farms;
1921 – “Little Church” was built; for years, the only church structure in Myrtle Beach;
1935 – Myrtle Beach population of about 500 people and five telephones; church membership was 200;
1939 – Present sanctuary was built; that same year, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church-South, and the Methodist Protestant Church merged to form The Methodist Church;
1952 – Asbury Hall built to accommodate more classrooms and currently houses The Coastal Samaritan Center, founded by the Rev. Thomas Brittain in 1980;
1960 – Wesley Building added including a fellowship hall/gymnasium and kitchen;
1968 – Sanctuary building widened; that same year, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged to form United Methodist Church, herein, First United Methodist Church;
1971 – Helping Hand of Myrtle Beach was founded by Rowan Crews, Jr. and United Methodist Youth Fellowship (UMYF); other local service organizations also had their genesis in First UMC including the Community Flea Market, Mobile Meals, and Associated Charities;
1978 – Mother’s Day Out program started;
1982 – Child Development Center with day care and after school programs opened under the supervision of Rev. Thomas Brittain and Rev. Debra Quilling;
1985 – Chapel and administrative office building added;
1989 – Hurricane Hugo’s winds damaged the steeple that fell through the sanctuary roof;
1992 – Television ministry started;
1995 – North Campus property at 65th Avenue North acquired, presently housing the Child Development Ministry;
1995 – Child Development Ministry, fully-owned ministry of the church, moved to the North Campus in 1997;
2000 to the Present – continued growth in ministries and programs; ongoing local, state, and world missions of First Church, some of which are New Directions Family Shelter, Rape Crisis Center, Neighbor to Neighbor, Helping Hand, Community Kitchen, Mobile Meals, Associated Charities, Shepherd’s Child program, Thrift Shop, Habitat Houses, Healed Home Ministry, UMCOR-United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, as well as local and state youth missions.
First United Methodist Church is at 901 N. Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach. The website is www.fumcmb.org.
The phone number is 843-448-7164 and the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traditional worship services are at 8:30 and 11 a.m. on Sunday in the sanctuary, and contemporary worship service is also at 11 a.m. in the Wesley Worship Center.
Bellamy went to First United long before many of its current programs were started, and says he only missed services for a Clemson football game or to visit other churches to talk about Gideons International.
When he was a kid, his mother, Rena Mae Bellamy, and Marcus Smith led Sunday school. Bellamy attended Sunday school and Methodist Youth Fellowship religiously.
When his kids were growing up, Bellamy was at church, not just for Sunday morning services, but five nights a week.
Monday night, he was a Scout leader; Tuesday and Thursday were his son’s basketball nights; Wednesday was men’s prayer group, and Friday was his daughter’s basketball.
What kept him coming back?
“My friends were here. My family was here. Big Tom was here.”
Now pastor emeritus who shepherded the flock three times, Brittain, at 92, is still active in the church at least three days a week, “going to meetings, doing visitation and raising money.
“I’ve been here more than 40 years and I see the church growing with the community and the needs of the community,” he says.
Those needs, says Howle, who’s been the pastor for about three months, include the growing homeless population in Myrtle Beach.
Howle comes from Greenville where he served as district superintendent of the S.C. Methodist Conference, supervising 74 churches.
“The solution to the homeless issue,” he says, “is not a handout because that enables the homeless.
“The real solution is to empower them to help themselves. We do job training. We find job opportunities.”
As an illustration, he talks about the once-homeless man who came looking for work.
“He didn’t ask for money, he asked for a job.”
Starting him out with small tasks to get to know him, that man was ultimately hired full time as a church janitor, and he’s gotten his life back on track.
“People have come in here barefoot and we take them to the thrift store and give them clothes,” Howle says.
The new minister says the church’s goals include expanding the North campus and adding a second contemporary service.
“We’re committed to the downtown campus, and we believe God put us here in this unique setting for a unique ministry,” he says.
“But we also want to maximize the North campus to reach the community that’s developing there.”
Right now, about 140 children are being served in that location through the Children’s Development Ministry, and a possible goal is building a Family Life Center on that property.
The contemporary service brings in about 175 members, Howle says, and a second one has the potential to add growth.
“Our church and our membership have continued to grow as Myrtle Beach has grown, but a church has to reach way beyond its four walls,” he says.
“A church that’s only concerned about itself is on the decline. A church has to care about what’s outside the building.”
And with a grin, Howle couldn’t help but add, “We were here eight years before the Presbyterians, you know.”