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Epworth United Methodist Church to celebrate 120 years Sept. 24

September 19, 2017
Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church, Rehoboth Avenue, circa 1900. SUBMITTED PHOTOS

In 1873, William McKinley was inaugurated as the 25th president. Thomas Edison was awarded a patent on his kinetographic camera, the forerunner to the motion picture camera. Locally, the Delaware Legislature approved the incorporation of The Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association of The Methodist Episcopal Church. Rehoboth Beach was born in a small-town setting with a single railroad track and a dirt road into the camp meeting town.

The idea of a camp meeting place on the Delmarva Peninsula came from the Rev. Robert W. Todd, who spent years traveling to Ocean Grove Camp Meeting on the Jersey shore. While the camp meeting land was large, the early development was a mere three blocks wide and one block deep from Rehoboth Avenue southward. Mostly it was tents (small, wooden, one-room structures) with a few houses scattered among them. Remnants of these camp meeting houses can still be found today in downtown Rehoboth. They basically came in two styles - small and large. Being a Methodist Episcopal camp meeting, there was a place for worship, an open-air tabernacle, as well as a small nonsectarian chapel at 20 Baltimore Ave. that was named Scott's Chapel.

The new town grew quickly. A church building was built in 1897, but not in the area of the tents and homes. It was built almost three blocks away - "out of town," so to speak, at Rehoboth and Lake avenues. Today, The Rehoboth Hotel occupies that ground across from Jack Lingo Realtor. That church was Epworth, a year-round Methodist church. It all began Sept. 2, 1897, when nine newly elected trustees, along with the Rev. J. D. Reece, voted to erect a place of worship at a cost of $1,200. Epworth received its name by suggestion of member Commodore William H. Schoch, USN. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, had been born and raised in the Parish of Epworth in England.

In 1913 Scott's Chapel, along with most of the block, including the original Carlton Hotel, was destroyed by fire. It was decided to move Epworth into town. In 1914 Epworth was literally picked up and moved to 20 Baltimore Ave. where it remained for almost 100 years. Over the years, the old buildings were replaced with modern structures as the church grew. In the early 2000s, Epworth had outgrown its space and needed to expand; 23,000 square feet was simply not enough space. With no real estate on Baltimore Avenue on which to expand, the church decided to build a new and modern facility. In 2008 a brand-new, 48,000-square-foot church on Holland Glade Road was dedicated. The old Epworth church building on Baltimore Avenue still stands and is the home of Clear Space Theatre and Celebration Mall, a center for the arts.

During the time on Baltimore Avenue, Epworth opened a preschool. That was 30 years ago. Hundreds of students have crossed the threshold to kick-start their early learning skills with a Christian-based curriculum. Epworth Preschool began as a Mom's Morning Out in 1987, which basically offered babysitting to busy parents. As the demand changed, it evolved into a preschool after a few months, offering a more academic program. As word got out that there was a preschool program in the Rehoboth area, it quickly became a popular choice for parents looking for a safe and nurturing environment in a local church setting.

Some 30 years later, it is a thriving and evolving program, offering aftercare, extended days, summer camps and Kids' Night Out, as well as numerous opportunities for preschool options. The curriculum includes Spanish, gross motor play, science, math, alphabet and numbers, name writing and recognition, and music. More than 1,800 children have been a part of Epworth Preschool since 1987. The preschool management looks forward to having a strong, educational impact on many more in the years to come.

Epworth Preschool Director Betsy Plowman said, "I have been involved with Epworth Preschool, first as a teacher and then as the director, for the past 25 years. It has been amazing to see what our alumni have achieved within our community and beyond. I often feel like a proud mom when I go to sporting events, assemblies, school concerts and plays, or read our local paper, and see names of former students who have accomplished so much and are well on their way to changing the world. I look forward to many more years as the director of such a reputable and highly regarded preschool in our community."

Over its history, Epworth has been served by 35 clergy, with two of them serving twice. The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Baker served as senior pastor twice while his father David served as a senior pastor and then as a semi-retired associate pastor. Epworth has been blessed by another father/child connection among its clergy. The current senior pastor, the Rev. Vicky Starnes, is the daughter of the Rev. Tom Starnes, who served as senior pastor during the 1990s.

A celebration of the 120 years of worship and service to the community by the church and the 30 years of service by the preschool will be held Sunday, Sept. 24, at the church campus on Holland Glade Road. All are invited to come and worship, and recall the memories of Epworth's rich history. A collection of photographs will be on display. The morning will begin with a traditional worship service at 7:45 a.m. and the contemporary worship service at 9:15, both in the sanctuary. Then at 10:30, the celebration will move outside for fellowship and to celebrate in a camp meeting style. The outdoor celebration will be led by the Rev. Robert W. Todd, as portrayed by longtime Epworth member and Methodist historian Roger Truitt. In addition to worship, there will be food trucks and activities for the kids.

For more information, call 302-227-7743 or go to www.EUMCRB.org/120anniv.

Epworth United Methodist Church is at 19285 Holland Glade Road, just north of Rehoboth Beach off Route 1. For more information, go to www.eumcrb.org.

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