As has been the case for the previous seven decades, much of the eighth decade rings true for our present experiences at Mount Vernon!
The eighth is a decade filled with parking issues, a dearth of volunteers to work with the Scouting program, capital improvement campaigns, moving from a part-time to a full-time music position, a roof that still leaks, preparing for a “birthday celebration” (the 75th), implementing a new program to improve fellowship in the church, a need to “emphasize serious study and a deeper understanding of our Christian heritage,” a youth group that provides leadership in the community in ministering to the poor, the hungry, and the shut ins…and a staff member who speaks out about a social issue, causing division within the church, with both sides believing in the rightness of their position. Does any of this sound familiar?
The decade began with the removal of the ivy from the exterior of the church and repairs made to the brick damaged by the ivy. It was also a “lean” time for the conference, which asked every member of every church to contribute a “Day’s Pay” for church extension and mission. Mount Vernon did its fair share and then in 1955 promoted a thirteen-week campaign (“Tithing Adventure”) before Easter to provide special support for foreign missions, home missions, and to pay off the church loan. A total of $13,000 was raised!
Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops were doing well, but volunteers were needed to start Brownie and Cub Scout troops. It wasn’t until 1957, through the efforts of William H. Jefferson Jr. and Joel Borden to secure den mothers, that all four groups were flourishing.
Board Chairman and School Superintendent O. T. Bonner urged the church to purchase property adjacent to the church and to initiate a study to determine future needs. Because parking was a serious problem and because Sunday school membership was increasing, plans were developed to add an educational wing and to construct a parking lot with a West Main-to-South Main entrance/exit pattern. The church continued the “Tithing Adventure” before Easter in 1956 and sponsored a German family to come to Danville, provided money for missions, and had funds left over again to apply to the church debt.
Rev. Dr. Harold Hughes, having completed a four-year tenure at Mount Vernon, was moved, and was succeeded by Rev. Dr. R. O. Bryant.
An architect's plan was presented to the church and included an education addition, parking lot, chapel in memory of Rev. Wasena Winn, repairs to the leaky roof, a new furnace for the parsonage, and air conditioning in the sanctuary. It was announced that $200,000 would be needed for this building fund. By December, pledges for the building fund reached $272,000!
During this same period, Gene Stryker’s duties in the school system increased, and it was felt that the church’s music program needed to grow. Thus began the search for a full-time minister of music … Music Search Committee déjà vu ...
There were already two pews in the sanctuary with nameplates. In 1957 a third family requested permission to place a nameplate on a pew. After much discussion, permission was granted with the understanding that from that time forth, such requests would not be considered because of the fear that some people would think a pew belonged to them and that it could not be freely used by others. (Imagine such a thing happening!)
In 1959 Mount Vernon dedicated its new education building and celebrated its 75th anniversary. Former ministers were invited back and the bishop spoke at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. Although it had been requested that an updated history of the church be written, there were not enough subscriptions to pay for the printing, so the information was mimeographed.
During the fall of 1959 Reverend Bryant began a program called “Total Enlistment” to improve church fellowship and to encourage members to invite others to church. The church membership was divided into groups which met in members' homes.
In 1960 Rev. Dr. William Watkins began serving Mount Vernon, at a time when almost the entire budget for 1960–61 was already pledged and every committee had been appointed. In the fall Mount Vernon joined all other Methodist churches in the Conference in a “Knock on Every Door” campaign to emphasize our responsibility to the needs of our community. During this time Mount Vernon’s music and youth programs flourished. The choir sang in a performance of The Messiah at the G.W.H.S. auditorium, and the youth collected food, participated in UNICEF activities, visited shut-ins, and went caroling.
During the tenure of Reverend Watkins major renovations were made to the sanctuary – painting and carpeting – and he led the church to have only one service each Sunday at Averett College while work was being done on the sanctuary.
By the fall of 1963 race relations in Danville were worsening and Reverend Watkins preached several sermons about the need for Christians to be inclusive and for those in leadership positions to take responsibility for all people. The Administrative Board did not think the problems in the nation and city should be brought into the church, where they were causing dissension, and the board censured the pastor. The Danville District ministers met, and the district superintendent affirmed the policy of a free pulpit for Methodist ministers. The membership of Mount Vernon was split over this issue for some time, with both sides convinced of the rightness of their positions. Reverend Watkins left in 1964 after four years at Mount Vernon, and Rev. Dr. W. Carroll Freeman was appointed. Although the board minutes for part of Reverend Watkins's tenure and for the first two years of Reverend Freeman’s ministry have vanished, we do know this was a time of soul-searching, reconciliation, and healing.