Union Church of Bemis, Tennessee

UNION Church of bemis, tennessee
bemis united methodist Church


In 1900, Bemis Bro. Bag Company of Boston began construction of the cotton mill in a large, open field south of Jackson, Tennessee. The village was laid out with wide streets and homes for workers as well as other structures associated with life and business.

Prior to 1908, worship services were held on Sundays in the assembly hall on the second floor of the Bemis Mercantile Company. (This assembly room was used by the company for their employee meetings as well as a place to watch movies on Saturday afternoon.) Various ministers came in to conduct the services which proved to be unsatisfactory; so to relieve the situation, the Memphis Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which met in Jackson in 1905, was asked to supply a pastor for a one year period. Bishop W. W. Duncan appointed Rev. E. B. Terry to this position, which he served until 1907.  Rev. T. F. Sanders succeeded him and served for the next two years.

In 1908, Judson Moss Bemis, founder of the Bemis Bro. Bag Company, provided for the construction of a church without cost to the community. Mr. Bemis was in attendance as the church was dedicated on April 19, 1908, as the Union Church. At this time, an endowment of $600 per year was set up as the pastor’s salary. This endowment continued until 1974. The structure of the church is Old English architecture. The materials were cut in Boston and shipped to Bemis by railroad to be assembled on site. The front entrance has a gable roof over arched openings; the side walls have engaged buttresses. Mr. Bemis’ son, Albert, a graduate of MIT in Boston, hired architects from the Boston area to help in the design of not only the church but other structures in the village. Some say the sanctuary ceiling reminds them of the shape of a boat. The church was originally used by the Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and followers of the Church of Christ. Over time, due to enlarging the Mill, a population increase caused the church to need an addition. The chapel was added in 1922 and was built of concrete and stucco.

Between 1911 and 1919, other churches were built by Baptist, Pentecostal, and Church of Christ congregations. The church remained a Union church but was under the care and direction of the Memphis Annual Conference until October 1949 when it was officially given to the Memphis Annual Conference and dedicated as a Methodist Church. A cornerstone marker at the front of the chapel area bears these important dates.

During the early days of the church, the Ladies Aid Society was formed. In 1919, the Women’s Missionary Society was organized with 30 members.  J. B. Young served as the church’s first Sunday School Superintendent.

Extensive additions and remodeling have been done to the church building. In 1946, a Wickes Pipe Organ was installed, including a full set of chimes. This organ is still in use. During the 1950s, a Child Care Center was started at the YMCA in Bemis. Its first directors were Ralph and Carolyn Howard, followed by Mrs. Sue Moore. A short time later, Mrs. Stella Duncan began working with the children in the community and held some activities in the Bemis Park. In 1956, this program was moved to the church where Mrs. Stella, along with Mrs. Ethel Walters, started a half-day kindergarten program. Through the years, the Bemis Methodist Child Care Center has grown to be a well-respected facility where emphasis on Christian principles and ideals are encouraged. The center continues to play a vital role in the community as well as an outreach ministry of the church.

In 1967, a new dining/kitchen area, office, additional classrooms, restrooms and nursery facilities were added. Renovation of the children’s educational area was done in 1956.

In 1975, the former National Bank of Commerce presented the church with a set of Schulmerich Carillons which are quite rare and allows music to be placed through outside speakers to many areas of Bemis. In 1987, an outstanding sound system was donated by Carl and Val Perkins. Mrs. Nell Bingham designated a substantial part of her estate to the church. Through the years, many church members and families of the Bemis community have contributed generously to the work and growth of the church and its programs.

In the early 1900s, a beautiful two-story house was constructed at the corner of Fifth Street and Massachusetts Street for Mr. J. B. Young, manager of the mill. It later became the parsonage for the church. In 2004, the parsonage was sold to a family in the church.

In the 90th year of the church (1998), under the leadership of Mrs. Virginia Sylvester, the Colonial Dames XVII Century, Capt. Charles Barham Chapter, honored the church with a historic marker, which celebrated the church’s heritage in the Bemis community. In 2002, The Daughters of the Colonists, Col. Gideon Macon Chapter made a similar presentation to the parsonage.

Faithful servants of Christ who have provided good pastoral leadership through the years to the Union Church and the Methodist Church:

C. D. Hilliard 1908-1910
H. D. Johnson 1910 (moved during year)
Hays Howell 1910 (completed the year)
S. M. Griffin 1911-1913
W. E. Sewell 1913-1917
S. F. Wynn 1917 (moved during year)
E. H. Blackard completed the year
W. F. Maxedon 1918-1920
Syl Fisher 1920-1923
T. G. Lowery 1923-1924
J. W. Carnell 1924-1928
W. O. Stone 1928-1930 (died during year)
W. S. Evans 1930 (completed the year)
V. A. Deshazo 1930-1933
E. F. McDaniel 1933-1938
C. E. Norman 1938 (died during year)
Boyd Norman 1938 (son completed the year)
E. G. Thurmond 1939-1942
L. L. Jones 1942-1947
H. W. Davis 1947-1951
Homer Johns 1951-1956
George McKelvy 1956-1961
Elton K. Baker 1961-1968
W. H. Granberry 1968-1972
George T. Archer 1972-1973
John A. Jones 1973-1976
Frank Madden 1976-1980
John Deal, Sr. 1980-1985
Harry Durbin, Sr. 1985-1990
Wesley Fears 1990-1991
Walter German 1991-1996
Terry Pence 1996-1997
Jonathan L. Jeffords 1997-2001
John W. Lee 2001-2002
T. J. Wesley 2002-2003
Gary C. Morse 2003-

Bemis Bro. Bag Company donated property to Bemis churches in 1949.

Bemis United Methodist Church, photographer Kathy Haney Williams 11.19.2019
Bemis United Methodist Church, photographer Kathy Haney Williams 11.19.2019