The Story of Mount Olive
By the late Rev. Ralph W. Wott
Written in 1933 at the time of the 75th anniversary celebration
One of the first log meeting houses of American Methodism was built by Robert Strawbridge on Sam’s Creek, Frederick County, Maryland, nearly one hundred years before the organization of Mount Olive. The influence of this little cabin soon made itself felt through Maryland, and Baltimore early became the heart of American Methodism.
When Mount Olive Church was organized the Baltimore Circuit had already been in existence for years. The closest churches were Euler’s Chapel, Milford Road and Sudbrook Lane, and the Marcella Church on Old Court Road west of Liberty Road. Those were the days when roads were little more than paths through the woods. Oft times the worshipers at Marcella would stay until morning because of storms and hard traveling. Mr. Holt, who later became one of the leading men of Mount Olive, often walked from Randallstown to Garrison Boulevard on the Sundays when there were no services close to home.
The first plan was to build a church at Randallstown on a piece of land given by Mr. Menier. (This is now the property owned by Mr. Seymour Ruff, Sr.). The land had been given and the building was about to be started when it was decided to build the church on its present site, the Miller and Timanus families already having a burying ground where the old part of the cemetery now is. This land came into possession of the Miller family three months after it had been granted to a Mr. Carpenter by Lord Baltimore. In the course of time it became the property of Mr. and Mrs. David Jean, a nephew of Mr. Miller. It was a part of this land that Mr. and Mrs. David Jean deeded to the trustees of Mount Olive Church on March 27, 1858 in exchange for the Menier property. A large cooper penny was given to bind the bargain. The cemetery was to become a free burying ground.
The original trustees were John S. George, George Lynch, Andrew Harvey, Aaron Holt, George Latchford, Martin L. Jean, and John T. George. At their first meeting held October 4, 1858, they unanimously called their new church Mount Olive.
For nearly two years there are no records of the business of the church. On April 18, 1860 the trustees met to “consider the propriety of proceeding to finish the church. . . After a free interchange of opinion of our affairs and prospects, it was moved and carried that we go to work and try to get in the old subscriptions with such additions as we can, it being understood we are going to finish the church this summer.”
The financial entries of the church recorded by John G. George lists 136 subscriptions from fifty cents to one hundred and fifty dollars. On October 6, 1858 the basement was dedicated. The basket offering was twenty-one dollars and seventy-four cents and the subscriptions, two hundred and twenty-eight dollars. The main floor was dedicated May 19, 1861, the offering being twenty-nine dollars and subscriptions three hundred and thirty-six dollars. The original cost of the building was about thirteen hundred dollars.
Mount Olive was then added to the historic Baltimore Circuit: Reisterstown, Pleasant Hill, Stone Chapel, Ames Chapel, Euler’s Chapel, Ward’s Chapel, Marcella and later St. Paul’s at Granite. The parsonage was at Reisterstown. Two and sometimes three pastors served the circuit. The junior pastor lived among the people.
The trustees’ meeting, on September 24, 1864, reveals that there was a Literary Association which was holding weekly meetings in the church basement. Also there was a church debt of two hundred and fifty dollars which was causing the men some concern. One suggested that each of the trustees give twenty dollars and ask the ministers to collect the remainder. The minutes of the next meeting read: “Interest for maybe four years . . . $48.” A discussion of placing either zinc or sand boxes under the stoves resulted in Brother Holt offering to furnish the lumber to make boxes and Brother George offering to make them.
It was about this time in the life of Methodism that the young people’s movement began. The Lyceum became the parent of our present-day Epworth League. This Lyceum took somewhat the form of a debating society. Among the subjects discussed were “Which is greater, the pen or the sword?,” “Prohibition,” “Was the execution of King Charles the First justifiable?”
On July 3, 1867 the church was struck by lightening which did considerable damage. Two years later many changes and repairs were made. The church was painted both inside and out. The basement was enlarged at a cost of five hundred and eighty-eight dollars. At this time the ladies of the church formed a sewing circle which met each week to make fancy articles to be sold at a fair. After three months of work the fair opened, Wednesday, May 26 at 2 o’clock in the Sunday School room. Single tickets were twenty-five cents; season tickets, seventy-five cents; and a “Gentleman and Wife,” one dollar and fifty cents. This fair lasted two weeks and netted five hundred and sixty-five dollars and sixty-five cents.
It was about this time that the cuspidors were removed from the pulpit and from the men’s side of the church.
The following year new furniture was bought for the Sunday School room, the old benches “being too long and unwieldy. After considering the cost, it was decided to have settees with reversible backs and a drawer attached to the bottom of every other one, so that each teacher can take care of books belonging to his or her class. There are to be three rows of seats and two aisle.”
On Wednesday, October 4, 1871, a singing school was organized under the leadership of Mr. Burnham who was to start the class in the rudiments of music. Mr. Burnham “thinks before the end of the quarter all will be reading music.” He was to receive twenty dollars per quarter.
The developing of the Mite Society apparently had its origin in the fair. In 1871 the ladies of the church were called together to organize such a society. There were but seven present but officers were elected. On February 19, 1876 the trustees “moved and seconded that a Mite Society be organized so as to include the male portion of the community.” On December 19, 1874 the entry reads: “The deficiency at this date was provided for by the Mite Society.” Two years later when the church had difficulty in raising the last of its two hundred and seventy-eight dollars on pastor’s salary one of the ministers said: “If Mount Olive does not wake up it will not be long before the bats and the owls and the cobwebs will take possession.”
A typical entry of the treasurer’s report is taken from the minutes of February 10, 1873:
- February 5 – 2 gal. of oil……………………………………$.56
- February 6 – paid sexton……………………………………$6.00
- February 6 – 2 boxes matches………………………………$.05
- May 8 – paid sexton………………………………………..$7.50
- August 5 – paid sexton……………………………………..$7.50
- September 29 – 3 gal. of oil………………………………..$.90
- September 15 – mending hook…………………………….$.85
Possibly the outstanding revival at Mount Olive was during the pastorate of the Rev. B. F. Clarkson (1879-80). On a Friday night after three weeks of meetings things began to happen. The Pastor came into the church a few minutes late, threw off his coat and went directly into the pulpit. When the time came for the sermon he went down between the pulpit and the altar rail and there, walking back and forth, brought conviction upon his hearers. Then Brother Parsons, in a loud and heavy vice, prayed and the “Amens” were plentiful. Then they sang “Turn to the Lord and Seek Salvation.” Before the service had closed six had come to the altar and the revival was started. It continued for four weeks more than forty-seven were converted and taken into the church.
It was about this time the first organ, costing one hundred and fifty dollars, was put in the church. It apparently became the center of some debate as five years later one of the unreconciled brothers commented: The “devil is back of the organ.” This was not so complimentary to the organist.
On January 3, 1883 a committee of Brothers Lilly and Jean was appointed to procure three lamps and brackets and put them up, have the front door and steps painted and “the flue on the west side of the church so arranged as to prevent it smoking the congregation on windy days.” Also “to procure a new walnut pulpit, cost unlimited.”
The Rev. Charles Dudrear (1881-83-84), a junior pastor, writes about his years on the circuit. The Rev. W. H. Ferguson, in charge of the work, lived at Reisterstown. The Rev. Lewis Brown, being a married man, lived in a rented house near Mount Olive. Brother Dudrear lived in the home of Mrs. Carlisle in the Green Spring Valley. In 1883 Reisterstown became a station and a new parsonage was built at Pikesville. The Circuit then consisted of Ames, Mount Olive, Ward’s, Stone Chapel, Granite, Pleasant Hill and Meadow Dale.
Those were the days of the long protracted meetings. The minister lived for weeks at a time among his people. When homeward bound he carried most of his salary in the back of his buggy rather than in his purse. Donation parties were given even to single preachers. Brother Dudrear tells of one such party, the gift being a lap robe. This he accepted, saying: “It is in some measure a substitute for a wife to keep me warm in my lonely cold rides over the Circuit.”
The receipts of an oyster supper in 1885 were one hundred and fifty-five dollars. It was estimated that it would cost one hundred and eighty-three dollars to build a horse shed large enough to accommodate ten horses.
On March 26, 1889, the trustees met to “consult about contemplated repairs to the church. The following proposition was accepted that in the near future the pastor was to secure the services of some ‘distinguished stranger’ for an all-day meeting.” On May 7 of the same year it was “Resolved that we add one window on each side, about thirteen feet to the front, six feet to be taken off for a vestibule, one gothic door in the center, two gothic windows above, with a belfry on the corner.” The partition running the length of the church separating the men from the women was to be removed and a furnace was to replace the old stoves. Brother Weber was to superintend the stone work. One May 15 it was “Resolved, that we proceed at once to remodel the church.”
The financial report indicates that there was one hundred and sixty-one dollars on hand to start this project. The collection on the day of reopening was thirty-nine dollars and seventy-seven cents; subscriptions, three hundred and twenty-five dollars and thirty-two cents. Twelve hundred dollars were borrowed from the Old Town Bank. The total cost was seventeen hundred and eighty dollars. In 1891 they still owed one thousand and fifty dollars. The estimated value of the church and cemetery was six thousand dollars. The church was insured for thirty-five hundred.
“The Assistant” was published by The Rev. Frank G. Porter and Charles Guthrie when on this Circuit in the early nineties. The Sunday School Superintendent was Andrew Harvey. The Stewards were Martin Jean, Andrew Harvey and W. V. Cox. Brief sketches of Mount Olive news run as follows:
“October, 1891 – Mr. Valentine Smith is the new Postmaster at Rockdale, and the post-office is at the entrance of Mount Olive Lane. Miss Grape of Baltimore is a visitor to the Misses Lilly. – Wednesday Evening Prayer meeting in charge of Epworth League, well attended. Big preparations for the League reunion at Quarterly Meeting. Quiet agitation about fixing up the church surroundings; keep it up. The Prohibition people are having a mass meeting at Randallstown on the evening of October 6. – Preaching services will be at 11 AM every Sunday for a few weeks. Protracted work at other appointments makes the change necessary.”
The Revival played a very prominent part in the life of the church during these days. The “Assistant’s” appeal for the cooperation of the church members runs as follows:
“You see we are full of revival work; we do not care for anything else or even to talk of other things. O brethren, give us your evenings, tired as you may be, for this work of saving the people. How can you stay at home when the work needs you? What will men think of your religion? What interest in them can they see in you?”
Four suggestions made by the Stewards to members of the congregation were: (1) Notice time of Fourth Quarterly Conference, January 16. (2) Give the Stewards your quarterage before New Year’s Day; don’t make him come for it. (3) The Stewards desire contributions from every member. (4) Read how much your appointment owes. In the year 1892 the Baltimore Circuit paid its senior pastor eight hundred and ninety dollars; junior pastor, five hundred; presiding elder, eighty-five; bishop, twenty-three, and traveling expenses, thirty-nine.
At a trustees’ meeting on April 5, 1897, Albert Weber offered to donate the granite gate posts and side walls for the entrance to the church grounds if the church would put up a suitable fence along the front of the church lot.
In 1903 new granite steps and platform were placed at the front of the church at the cost of three hundred and twenty-two dollars.
New trends in the life of the church became evident with the entrance of the new century. The higher educational standards for the ministry tended to reduce the size of the circuits and change the junior pastor system. In 1910 the large Baltimore Circuit was divided, and the West Baltimore Circuit came into existence with Mount Olive, Ward’s Chapel and St. Paul’s (Granite) as preaching points. The West Baltimore Circuit received its equity in the Pikesville parsonage and the new parsonage was built at Mount Olive at a cost of about six thousand dollars. The Richard Koontz, the first pastor to live in the new house, says: “After having lived for four years in a house which lacked many of the modern conveniences we felt like we were living in a mansion.”
Rev. Koontz, in writing of the business efficiency of the church, says: “I found the best organized and most business-like Board of Trustees with which it has been my privilege to deal. . . . The Board met once a month. Its members, unlike many church officials, considered it an important part of their duties to attend the monthly meetings.”
Just as the trends were toward smaller circuits or stations, additional interest was being taken in the development of Sunday Schools. In 1911 there were six classes on each side of the Sunday School room. They used reversible benches – the boys being on the west side of the church and the girls and women on the east. The desk and organ were at center front. A girls’ class were between the desk and the large furnace which occupied the center of the room. The men’s class was between the furnace and the door. It has been hinted that they made their share of the noise in the crowded room.
The needs of the infants became imperative. The men’s class finally moved upstairs, causing what the Rev. Steelman called a “minor revolution.” The ladies soon followed the men to the room above.
Soon it became evident that small children could not effectively have their religion brought to them in terms of adult experience. The need of departmental work with graded lessons was apparent and was inaugurated during the pastorate of the Rev. George Bennett (1918-19). The Elementary Department was developed and equipped for graded work. The dangling of little legs from high benches was a thing of the past.
During the pastorate of the Rev. Frank Steelman the old plan of quarterage payment to the Stewards was replaced with the envelope system.
In 1918 sentiment on the West Baltimore Circuit was pointing toward the separation of Ward’s Chapel from the Circuit. This was accomplished in 1922. The Rev. F. Y. Jaggers, then pastor of the West Baltimore Circuit, became pastor at Ward’s Chapel and the Rev. R. J. Nicholson was appointed to Mount Olive and St. Paul’s.
In 1920 the appearance of the church was greatly improved by redecorating the interior, by replacing the old seats with new pews, and by adding a new carpet.
During the pastorate of the Rev. R. J. Nicholson a fund was started for a new pipe organ. This was bought and installed during the pastorate of the Rev. Charles W. Lanham (1925) at a cost of three thousand dollars. This has made possible the development of the fine musical program of our church during the pastorate of the Rev. W. A. Keese. The Senior Choir was reorganized and an Epworth League Choir and Junior Choir were developed by Mrs. Keese.
The St. Paul’s church at Granite never had been a strong institution. The pastors as far back as 1910 speak of the fine folks who were striving without much success to maintain the church. The shifting of the Protestant population out of the community made the struggle more difficult. After a careful study, the Granite congregation voted to consolidate with Mount Olive. This was done under the leadership of Rev. Keese in 1930.
The membership of Mount Olive is now two hundred and ninety-four. We have a closely graded Sunday school with an enrollment of two hundred and forty. Our Epworth League is active and has a fine record for sending delegates to Mountain Lake Park Epworth League Institute. In 1932 Mount Olive held her first Daily Vacation Bible School, meeting three hours a day over a period of two weeks. The enrollment was eighty-five. Twenty-five voluntary workers conducted the school. This is becoming a vital part of Mount Olive’s summer program. There is a Church and Parsonage Aid and a Women’s Home Missionary Society in our church. The musical organizations are still a contributing factor in the worship of our church; the Senior Choir under the leadership of Mrs. William Banes, the Epworth League Choir under the leadership of William Harvey, Jr., and the Junior Choir under the leadership of the pastor’s wife. H. Leroy Scharon is our local preacher and is preparing for the ministry. He is now a student at Blue Ridge College.
If we could turn back the pages of history and visit the Mount Olive of seventy-five years ago, how different it would be. The room with its partition would seem odd. The costumes of the worshipers would seem hopelessly out of style. The hymns might not be familiar and the sermon would seem strange, but we would find an honest, rugged, earnest group of Christians who would hold us in reverence. They had faith and courage. They built well.
Little can we dream of what Mount Olive will be seventy-five years hence. Our only hope is that we can be as far sighted, as honest, as rugged and as courageous as were they.
And now the rest of the story for the next 75 years . . .
Adapted from the Heritage Sunday Skit, April 27, 2008
Mt. Olive has always considered the spiritual needs and growth of its children. The first church school addition was started under Rev. Ralph Wott and completed in 1938 under Rev. Stanley McFarland. The addition provided rooms for the Ladies Bible Class, the Young Adult Class, the Friendship Bible Class, the Nursery Department, and a much needed kitchen.
Time passes on and once again in 1950 a new educational building is erected. Additional space has now been provided for the junior, intermediated, and primary departments. Our Church School has now been completed to its present form.
Time does not stand still and neither does the needs of the church as we enter into the year of 1962. The decision was made to build a new sanctuary and a new fellowship hall with administrative offices and a new kitchen! Construction on our present sanctuary began in March 1963. Bishop John Wesley Lord delivered the message at the first formal worship service on April 15, 1964. In 1968 our new name became the Mt. Olive United Methodist Church with the merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
In 1976 the hope of our future grew bright with the guidance of the Rev. Maurice Vineyard and his wife, Hudson, joining our list of pastors. Then in 1977 Eleanor Brown accepted the position of Pastoral Assistant as the needs of Mt. Olive’s ministry grew and expanded.
In 1988 we welcomed the Rev. Kenneth M. Humbert as our pastor. Through his gifts and graces our Church changed as our neighborhood was changing. And, in 1998 we welcomed our first female pastor, the Rev. Mary Sheila McCurdy. Our neighborhood continued to change along with our congregation. We celebrated and continue to celebrate the diversity of our church family.
In 2005 our second female pastor, the Rev. Laura Lee C. Wilson was appointed. The following year Rev. Wilson earned her Doctor of Ministry and then in 2007 she became the Rev. Dr. Laura Lee C. Morgan. That’s right, our pastor was married. Rev. Morgan was the first pastor to be married here at Mt. Olive United Methodist Church while serving as the lead pastor.
On August 1, 2009 we welcomed the Rev. Dr. Mark W. Johnson as our Pastor. With Dr. Johnson we are envisioning ways to take our faith beyond the four walls of Mt. Olive United Methodist Church to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ to our community.
We are a people of faith, the People of God whose mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the gospel, and joyfully reaching out in love to nurture, teach, and heal in Jesus’ name.