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A History of Pine Grove AME Church

A History of Pine Grove AME Church

Church Building

Church Building
Church started approximately two years after the Civil War when former slaves from Swygert's and other quarters met on Sunday afternoons for their Bush Arbor Services, first on Shuler's Hill and then on Coogler's Hill.

With a great deal of hard work, determination, and sacrifice, the former slaves realized their dream in 1872, when the first church was erected on the site where the present house of worship stands. Worship at this original structure replaced the open-air Bush Arbor services until a Sunday night in 1875, when tragedy struck. Reconstruction had ended in the South and that marked the start of a prolonged period of terrorism against Black families and their communities. The church was set afire by arsonists and destroyed completely.

From the ashes of the burned church came desire, hope, and determination to rebuild. The original church had been built on land jointly owned by the former slaves. However, in 1897, Willis Steward donated his share of two and one-half acres to trustees, Willie Richardson, Adam Metze, Wade Paris, and Frank Washington for the construction of Pine Grove African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Mr. R. L. Swygert and Mr. Willie Richardson organized Pine Grove's Jubilee Choir in 1916. This style of singing was a very popular form of music in the Black church and written about by Andrew Ward, in the book, "Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Jubilee Singers Who Introduced the World to the Music of Black America." According to Ward, "Jubilee combined the heritage of African culture and experiences from slavery." Spirituals, as many of these songs came to be called, expressed faith in God, helped make work more bearable, and, during slavery, hid plans for revolt. These songs also laid the foundation for other forms of music in America.

A Junior Jubilee Choir was also organized by Mr. Swygert and later reorganized by Mr. Julius Rawls. The Junior Jubilee Choir later became the Musical Choir under the guidance of Mr. Rawls, Ms. Nora Reeves, and Mr. Thomas Kenly. Jubilee singing remains a part of Pine Grove's worship. The Jubilee Choir is under the presidency of Mr. Ed Blocker.

Historical records of the early pastoral appointments for the church are few but note the tenure of pastors named Jackson, Martin, Lewis, Burt, Emmanuel Dickerson, Robinson, Shaw, Logan, Vance, Hendricks, Isreal, Cunningham, Williams, Gambrell, and Simmons. During the 1890s and early 1900s, Pine Grove held service only once a month as AME pastors had three churches under their care. Under this arrangement, Pine Grove's connectional churches were St. Paul, Young's Chapel, and Hopewell. Revival for all these churches took place on the third Sunday in August and grew into a tradition.

Pine Grove underwent significant renovations in 1918, under the leadership of Rev. W. J. Robinson. The church's rough siding was replaced, the roof redone with manufactured wooden shingles, and new gothic style windows were installed. Rev. Robinson went on to become Presiding Elder.

During the C. A. Dunlap pastorate, the first children's usher board was organized. Mrs. Ruth G. Smith was appointed president and Mrs. Lina B. Ray served as an assistant. A Flower Club was also organized. The committee was comprised of Mrs. Daisy Rhett, Mrs. Ruth Smith, and Mrs. Lina B. Ray.

Rev. W. G. Owens' tenure was very brief, and his wife served as the musician to the Musical Choir.

In 1953, during the Rev. S. J. Johnson's administration, the location of the pulpit was moved from one end of the church to the other due to the change in the road that led to the church. By this time, the church had been renovated three times although the foundation remained the same. Mr. Sumter Nixon rebuilt the original altar that was worn and defaced by time.

The Rev. Clarke R. Hawthorne, young and energetic, followed the Johnson administration. An improvement in church lighting, gas heaters added, and the pulpit set was acquired during his pastorate.

Rev. Verseal Janerette, a caring minister, preached his first sermon at Pine Grove on November 3, 1957. His first project was the completion of the first phase of the new Willis Steward Educational Building. The Trustee Board purchased and installed the central heating and air conditioning in the sanctuary. Rev. Janerette also oversaw the installation of new sanctuary pews and renovation of the interior of the church. These improvements were paid in full upon their completion.

Programs developed under the leadership of Rev. Janerette included Women's and Youth Day. The first Women's Day was held in 1963. Mrs. Minnie Lowman served as its first chairperson; Mr. Talmadge Kenly served as the first Youth Day Speaker. As an outgrowth of Youth Day, the V.A. Janerette Choir was organized by Mr. Edward Blocker.

The first Pastor's Appreciation Day was in honor of Rev. Janerette. Mrs. Elizabeth Able served as chairperson. Ms. Nora Reeves, Mrs. Johnnie Patterson, and Mrs. Lillian Hopkins served as musicians. Miss Martha Suber served as secretary and Mr. Matthew Foust served as treasurer. Rev. Janerette was our spiritual leader for sixteen years.

Rev. George Ashford followed Rev. Janerette's administration. During his tenure, the church had two significant building-related accomplishments. The second phase of the Educational Building was dedicated in 1975, and named, "the Willis Steward Educational Building." On July 11, 1976, Pine Grove Church family and friends witnessed the retiring of a $6,000 mortgage that was used for the building's brick veneer.

The first choir processional began during Rev. Ashford's administration. Also, memorial stained-glass windows were installed in the sanctuary by the Blocker, Curry/Swygert, Graham /Smith, Spencer/Clark, Redmon/Lowman, Kenly/Lowman, and Paris families. Mr. & Mrs. Thomas Kenly gave the cross and candle holders for the altar in memory of their son, Mr. Talmadge A. Kenly.

The church was enriched through the services of the Acolytes and the Young People's Division (YPD) trained by Mrs. Lydia Glover and assisted by Mrs. Ollie Washington.

Mr. Albert Linton became Minister of Music and directed the choirs to sing a variety of sacred music during the services. Other musicians were Mrs. Felicia Elliott, Mrs. Gwendolyn Block, Ms. Benita Bell, and Mrs. Martha Riley.

The Big Sisters' Club was a community organization that was also involved in the church. They contributed the Baptismal Font in honor of Mrs. Cora Curry and in memory of Mrs. Martha Clutts and Mrs. Suzanna Graham, founders of the Big Sisters' Club organization in October of 1934. They also contributed the outside bulletin board, renovation to the kitchen, offering plates, and the Pastor's table in the pulpit.

The Women's Missionary Society purchased elements for sacrament under President Mrs. Ellen R. Ward. At the same time, the church bought additional hymnals with the help of donations by church members.

During Rev. Ashford administration the first Church Anniversary was celebrated. Families and friends from all over the country came to join in this monumental 100th year celebration. Our guest speaker was the great-grandson of one of the founders of the church and community, Rev. William Franklin Richardson, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Mt. Vernon, New York. The Sunday afternoon service was sponsored by the Gospelettes of Newark, New Jersey with Mrs. Girlena Clark Spencer serving as directress.

In 1980, Mr. Albert Linton organized Pine Grove's first mass choir for a special gospel festival called "Saturday Night Live," which was held on the Saturday night before the Annual Revival.

The Rev. Joseph A. Darby's term as pastor had many firsts. He was the first appointee after Pine Grove became a station church. Membership increased greatly and new commissions and organizations enriched the life of the church.

Children's Church was organized and coordinated by Mrs. Margaret Warren. The Sons of Allen became a new organization with Mr. Johnnie Deas serving as president. They helped to sponsor and decorate Pine Grove's first Christmas float. The Young People's Division (YPD) published a newsletter.

The first Black History Program was observed and sponsored by the Social Action Committee under Rev. Darby's leadership.

The Lay Organization was organized by Mr. James B. Redmond (JB). Presidents during this tenure were Mr. James B. Redmond, Mr. Bernard Mills, Mr. Michael Block, and Mrs. Cleoneice Nixon Rhett.

The Sunday School also increased in membership under the guidance of Mr. Thomas Kenly and Mr. Phillip Rhett, Sr.

Exterior and interior improvements included installation of a new roof, interior and exterior painting, new doors, and locks, the first telephone, and a copying machine. The pews and altar were padded and new lights, donated by the V.A. Janerette Choir. Other improvements included a memorial to Mr. & Mrs. H. P. Rhett by Mr. & Mrs. C. H. Rhett, and a bronze cross for the pulpit given by Mr. William R. Parris, Jr. in honor of Mr. & Mrs. A. P. Richardson. A memorial garden was cultivated along the driveway and a permanent cross mounted and used extensively at Easter by Stewardess Board Numbers One and Two. Mrs. Cora Curry furnished the Ladies Lounge. Sunday School classrooms were carpeted in memory of the Mills and Baxter families. The Young People's Division (YPD) donated a Prayer Bench. The Senior Jubilee Choir purchased choir chairs. The interior of the sanctuary had paneling added, and floors were refinished by Mr. John Blocker, the contractor.

Rev. John C. Roberts served one year (1991-92), but put into place provisions to cover the parking lot with asphalt.

The Women's Missionary Society, under the leadership of Ms. Verna Starks, increased its membership and established many outreach projects. Its primary focus was caring for the needs of the elderly in the church and community. For eight years the WMS ministered to young ladies incarcerated by the Department of Juvenile Justice. They elected Mrs. Ellen R. Ward as a delegate to the 1998, Women's Missionary Connectional meeting held in Detroit, Michigan. Also, Mrs. Sophie Johnson, Mrs. Ellen Ward, and Mrs. Ollie Washington were honored at a special Episcopal luncheon for fifty years of dedicated and committed missionary service.

Rev. Stephen Singleton came to Pine Grove in 1992 and devoted 14 years of pastoral leadership. The church had several significant accomplishments under his leadership.

In 1994, Mrs. Martha Riley was elected president of the Women's Missionary Society. Under her leadership, the organization continued to serve the needy in nursing homes, hospitals, and the community. In 1996 and 1997, WMS members attended the State WMS Retreat. They also began recruiting young ladies to emphasize missionaries for the future.

Rev. Singleton began having two worship services each Sunday, an early morning praise service at 8:30 a.m., and traditional worship at 11:00 a.m. Both services grew in spirit and numbers. Mr. William Sweeper, Mr. Michael Felton, Mr. Nicholas Blocker, and Mr. Seldric Blocker all served as musicians.

Rev. Singleton was a strong advocate for young people. His leadership led to an active tutoring program with significant involvement by students and church volunteers.

On the second Sunday in January 1997, the Pine Grove A.M.E. Church commemorated its first Martin Luther King, Jr. observance. The theme was very fitting: "Remembering His Principles - Peace, Justice and Liberation." Mrs. Verna Starks served as chairperson. Committee members were Mr. Leon Smith, Mrs. Pauline Richardson, Mrs. Ellen Ward, Mrs. Telicious Kenly-Boyd, Ms. Novella Mills, Mrs. Cleoniece Rhett, and Ms. Julaunder Davis. The guest speaker was Mr. Thomas Jones. The Musical Choir rendered old spirituals and many youths participated in the program. The celebration was one to be remembered. The church was filled beyond capacity.

Pine Grove's first associate pastor and first female pastor, Rev. Julia Tillman served two years. Rev. Kylon Middleton served one year as assistant pastor. Rev. Middleton's ministry was youth oriented. He is remembered for his love and compassion for the congregation. The congregation celebrated Women's Week in April with ministers Julia Tillman and Elaine Eskew as guest speakers. Sister Thelma Griggs coordinated the services.

In February, in commemoration of Black History Month, Pine Grove shared ecumenical service with McGregor Presbyterian Church. Rev. Tom Glenn delivered the message and the McGregor Choir provided music. In May, Pine Grove A.M.E. Church was invited to fellowship with McGregor and Rev. Singleton was the guest minister and the Musical and Youth Choirs provided music. Both services created new acquaintances and friendships.

The men of Pine Grove gathered in June to fellowship and enjoyed their first Prayer Breakfast. Brother Leon Smith coordinated the event and the celebration continued with nightly services with the following guest pastors: Rev. Ellis White, Bluff Road United Methodist, Rev. Preston Winkler, First Nazareth Baptist, and Rev. Ronnie Brailsford, Bethel A.M.E. Several men of the congregation were honored: Dr. Isaiah Davis (Community), Mr. Tazzle Able (Longevity) and Mr. Bernard Mills (Commitment).

In the year 2000, a new 600-seat sanctuary was constructed adjacent to the old sanctuary. Approximately 6 acres of property were purchased for use by the church. The old sanctuary was converted into a fellowship hall and named in honor of Mr. Fletcher H. Bouknight.

New ministries under the administration of Rev. Singleton included the Spirit of Praise Dancers (Liturgical Dance Performers), Single/Single Again Ministry, Men in Prayer (MIP), Women of Prayer, Proclamation and Praise Ministry (WPPM), Married Couples' Ministry, Children's Bible Study, Youth Bible Study, and Young Women's Initiative (YWI). The church added clerical and ministerial staff and adopted a Bantu Family. Building improvements included the purchase of property for additional parking and future growth of the church, installation of an alarm system, and additional lighting in the rear of the church.

At the end of the conference year 2006, Rev. Lavern Witherspoon was assigned to Pine Grove. His tenure was very brief.

In 2008, Pine Grove was assigned Rev. Dr. James S. Cooper, a former Chaplain (Colonel) who served 31 years in the United States Army. Under Rev. Cooper's administration, Pine Grove hosted the 132nd session of the Columbia Annual Conference in 2009, its first Annual Conference. The Conference Planning Committee was chaired by Dr. Paul L. Beasley. During this time Pine Grove also became the lead church in the Newberry/Spartanburg District. In the same year, the church purchased a new 26 passenger bus, thanks to the help of the newly created Transportation Committee and its chairperson Mrs. Martha Riley.

Several new ministries and organizations were also added during Rev. Dr. Cooper's administration. Most noticeable was the Debt Liquidation Committee, which worked to retire 88% ($530,000) of the church's mortgage debt in four years in 2013. Today (2021) Pine Grove remains debt-free. Other ministries started by Rev. Dr. Cooper include the Welcome Committee, Greeting Committee, Catechism Class, Culinary Committee, Transportation Committee, and, under the guidance of Steward Pro-Tem Matthew Muldrow, The Ministry of Tithing.

Under the guidance of President Rosalind Chamberlain and Assistant Ella Davis, the Youth Choir was renamed "the New Generation Choir."

Under the supervision of Trustees and Trustee Pro Tem, Mr. Oscar Davis, the church purchased 2.5 acres adjacent to its parking lot and had all parking lots recovered and repainted. Other additions to the property included the completion of the Pine Grove Memorial Garden by the Sons of Allen and their chairperson, Mr. Henry Reeder.

Reverend Orlando M. McCauley, Jr., was assigned to Pine Grove at the close of the 2013 Annual Conference. During his tenure, the African Heritage Ministry was formed and lead by Mrs. Marilyn Johnson. The first African Heritage Festival was held in February 2014 in honor of Black History Month. The celebration culminated on the fourth Sunday of February, with an authentic African/Soul Fellowship Dinner in the Fellowship Hall. The congregation proudly wore African garments as a display of pride and honor. Rev. McCauley started the Noon Day Prayer Ministry and the Pastor's Aide Committee.

Rev. Dr. Charles E. Young began his tenure as pastor in March 2015. He instituted the Morning Glory Prayer Cells, which was a purposeful prayer for God's anointing on the worship services. Rev. Young was named a Presiding Elder from the Pine Grove AME pulpit in November 2016.

Pine Grove continued its journey of kingdom work in days of new challenges and paradigm shifts under the new leadership of Rev. Dr. Charles R. Watkins in November 2016. During his leadership, the YPD department, with support from the congregation, purchased a 15-passenger bus to assist with transportation to church events. The MORE Justice Ministry led by Mr. Paul Beasley allowed Pine Grove members an opportunity to identify critical issues within the community. The Pine Grove Radio Ministry led by Licentiate Elton Spain, provided worship services for the Columbia community. Additional ministries established included: The Joshua Generation Young Adult Ministry, Young Men of Distinction (led by Mr. Cliff Mintz) and Young Women of Excellence, (led by Rev. Dr. Sylinda Jamison). The Pine Grove Christmas Eve Candlelight Service was started to bring families together in prayer and thanksgiving during the Advent season.

The Steward Board replaced pulpit chairs during Rev. Watkins tenure.

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, Rev. Watkins launched Pine Grove's first virtual worship service on March 22, 2020, while recovery from major surgery.

October 4, 2020, Rev. James W. Dennis, III was assigned to Pine Grove and preached his first service. Rev. Dennis is a gifted, innovative, and anointed pastor. A native of Brookhaven, Mississippi, he is the youngest pastor in the church's 149th year history. An ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Dennis serves both the local and connectional AME church. In addition to his current pastoral appointment to Pine Grove AME Church, Rev. Dennis serves as the Evangelism Committee Chair of the Richard Allen Young Adult Council. He is the past Director of Ministries of the 7th Episcopal District and have held ministerial assignments at Bethel AME Church (Darlington, South Carolina), Bethel AME Church (Columbia, South Carolina), St. Phillip AME Church (Nashville, Tennessee) and Lee Chapel AME Church (Nashville, Tennessee).

Rev. Dennis is married to his best friend and partner in life, laughter, and love, Mrs. Joslyn White Dennis.

During the global pandemic, Rev. Dennis continued building God's kingdom through a variety of virtual platforms, including Sunday Worship, Church School, Bible Study, Mid-day Bible/Prayer Ministry, PALS meetings and more. The first Food Pantry was created and led by Mrs. Rosalind Chamberlain. As an outreach ministry to the community, Irmo Village was adopted.

Rev. Dennis established the following mission for Pine Grove:

Rev. Dennis's inspiration is contagious, and the Pine Grove Partners are excited to be on this journey with him.

Pine Grove motto, "Make Jesus Your Top Priority." With the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit guiding us, Pine Grove African Methodist Church will see many more beautiful and glorious years.

A Legacy of Ministry - Pine Grove Pastors

History was lost during the early pastoral appointments of Reverends. Jackson, Martin, Lewis, Burt, Emmanuel, Dickerson, Robinson, Shaw, Logan Vance, Hendricks, Israel, Cunningham, Williams, Gambrell, and Simmons.