History of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church
The roots of the Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in Bryson City, North Carolina can be traced with some accuracy to the year 1897 when the International Holiness Union and Prayer League was organized in the home of Reverend Martin Knapp in Cincinnati, Ohio. This was an interdenominational fellowship which was open to anyone who had a pure heart and who would accept the basic beliefs of salvation through Jesus Christ and a second experience of sanctification. Reverend Knapp was joined in this effort by a Quaker named Seth Cook Rees. The driving force of the fellowship was promotion of worldwide holiness evangelism.
Reverend Knapp was also instrumental in the establishment of God’s Bible School in 1900 whose purpose was to train ministers for evangelisms. One of the methods used by the school was to send out teams to multiple locations for evangelization.
At the turn of the twentieth century one of those teams came to Bryson City. It is reported that the evangelist was a lady by the name of Garrett. The meetings were held in the large tent in an open field reported to have been in the area where the RC Plant is located. A second tent meeting was held in Whittier following the meetings in Bryson City. From these gatherings, at least two churches were birthed- one in Bryson City and one at Whittier. (Some report that the Qualla Wesleyan Church and the former Wilmont Wesleyan Church also came from these meetings.)
The folks who began to meet following the tent revival did so under the name of the International Apostolic Holiness Union (The term Prayer League had been dropped by this time). Records of conference meetings of the Union indicate that in 1916 Reverend R.A. Andrews was appointed to be pastor of the Bryson City Church. Brother Andrews was the second pastor to be appointed.
During the 1920s, another group came into the Bryson City area that was of a different theological background, However, because of their small size they wanted to combine their congregation with that of the Apostolic Holiness Union in Byson City. Efforts were made to do so but the theological interpretations would not merge and the latter group left. By this time the International Apostolic Holiness Union was undergoing multiple merges with several groups and had changed the name of the Apostolic Holiness Union became the Bryson City Pilgrim Holiness Church.
It is not known for certain where the early church held its meetings. Many indicate that it must have been in a small wooden structure of some type since logging was a chief means of support in the area t this time and wood was easily available. These were Depression times as well and the group may have had to meet in different locations as they could.
North Carolina District records indicate that from 1935-1939 Reverend and Mrs. M.H. Russell pastored the church and from 1940-1946, Rev. Norman Nations served as pastor. From 1947-1951, Rev. H.F. Donnelly came to pastor and he was a product of God’s Bible School in Ohio. These latter years marked the first construction efforts to produce a building which would be called a church. Initially, there was no deed to any property but a local family by the name of Weeks permitted the church group to build a simple concrete block structure to use for worship.
At that time folks had to use whatever was available and they were able to get concrete blocks which has been shipped in by train. The blocks were around 17-18 cents each and folks would have to buy what they could and build as they could. It is reported that men of the community would be returning home by train from jobs outside the city and would stop on their way home to lay a few blocks and help out. Finally they had a simple warehouse type of structure with a concrete floor, windows and a roof. Pews were made of simple 2x6’s and heat was provided by a big coal stove.
Old church records indicate that attendance averaged from 40-50 with an average Sunday School offering of a little over $2.00. The church had one adult Bible class and three childrens classes, depending on the attendance. Records reveal that each meeting included singing, prayer, and a devotion time followed by “arranging” for the study of the Sunday School lesson. A former pastor’s wife indicated that ‘arranging’ meant that each class went to a different part of the room for its lesson. Primary expense of the church are recorded to have been lights, water, coal, some missionary offerings and some payment to the pastor. It is not clear but there are indications that the pastor who served in Bryson City may have also served at the Whittier Church and possibly at one of the other churches at times. Sunday School records reveal frequent listings of the pastors name for both churches.
Those who served following Reverend Donnelly were:
1951 – Reverend D.B. Martin
1952 – Supply – Reverend Luther Regan
1954 – Reverend John Cruse
1956 – Reverend Coy Jones
In 1957 Reverend D.A. Pullium came to the Bryson City church and this marked a second phase of construction for the fellowship. A front entrance and steeple were added to the building and a bell was placed in the steeple. The origin of the bell is not known for certain. Southern Railway was giving bells to various persons at that time but it is unclear if they did donate the bell for the church. Deeds were acquired for both the Bryson City and Whittier properties and later because of the decline in the church at Whittier that property was sold and the income form that sale was used for additional construction and remodeling in Bryson City.
Classrooms were partitioned off of one end of the big room. The folks had experienced much difficulty with heating the church and the heating system was replaced with gas heaters and then a gas furnace. Folks then decided to build a smaller room parallel to the structure being used so that when there were smaller numbers they would be able to meet in the second structure which could be heated more easily. The two buildings were not connected. Blocks for the second building were hauled by truck – possibly from canton where they were being made at this time. Additional work included some remodeling of the parsonage. It was basically a small four room house with a back porch and Reverend Pullium enclosed the back porch making it into a kitchen and bathroom. It is unclear if the upstairs of the parsonage was functional at this time or if it was renovated to be used as bedrooms. This increased the living quarters for his family since eleven of his twelve children were living with him while he pastored in Bryson City.
In 1968 the Wesleyan Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness Churches merged and became the Wesleyan Church – thus the name of the church was changed to the Bryson City Wesleyan Church. In 1969 Reverend James Caviness came to serve as pastor and in 1971 Reverend Charles Smith came.
While Reverend Smith was pastor a third period of construction took place. One of the ladies in the church, A Mrs. Aleen Anthony, was concerned that there were no bathrooms. She began to ask for donations at her place of employment (frequented by tourists) and was able to raise sufficient funds to build an additional classroom and two bathrooms which were situated between the existing buildings and constructed in s such a way that all three were finally connected. All of these structures are still standing as of this writing. At some point the gas furnace was replaced with one which used oil.
In 1975 Reverend Charles Keith came to pastor the church. During his tenure interior remodeling of the oldest building took place. Paneling and some insulation were added to the sanctuary as well as carpet and new (recycled) pews. A member of the congregation who was skilled in stained glass artistry constructed individual stained glass windows for the sanctuary. In an interim period before the arrival of another pastor the congregation remodeled and updated the parsonage which included carpeting and exterior siding.
Those who served following Reverend Keith were:
1987 – Reverend David Rollins
1988 – Reverend Eddie Gray
1989 – Supply – Paul Sale
1991 – Reverend Glenn Ward
1993 – Paul Sale
By 1993 several issues were confronting the church in Bryson City. Installation of the stained glass windows meant that windows could not be opened and had necessitated ceiling fan installations. But when meetings were held in the summer the temperatures were most uncomfortable in the sanctuary. A central air conditioning system solved that problem. Youth programs were growing and there was a need for specific oversight of that work. In 1994 Miss Rebecca Stansfield was hired as Assistant Pastor with the primary responsibility of youth work. Classroom space became a problem and curtains were made and installed to partition the sanctuary for Sunday School (now they were “arranged” with curtains!) Fellowship and special dinner meetings had to be held at another location because of limited space. Parking had always posed a problem but was becoming even more of a challenge. In 1996 the church was able to lease the space parallel to the parsonage and turn it into a parking lot. The lease was for five years with the possibility of a one time renewal.
It was at this time that the church voted to change its name from the Bryson City Wesleyan Church to the Cornerstone Wesleyan Church. The concensus was that the new name diminished denominational barriers so prevalent in the area while retaining the identify of the fellowship.
By 1997 it was evident that the needs of the church were greater than the facility could support. Investigations were made into possible renovation of the old building but costs were found to be prohibitive due to building code standards. After much prayer and discussion the church voted to pursue finding new property to purchase and eventually to build a new facility. They were very aware that this posed a challenge, for land in the area was both scarce and expensive.
A fairly thorough search was conducted and some lovely sites were found but the prices were far above what the church felt they could pay. Just as discouragement was about to get a foothold the pastor had a timely encounter with a local Christian businessman who was preparing to build an apartment complex on 2.8 acres not far from the location of the church. In the course of their conversation the businessman indicated that he would be happier furthering the kingdom of God than he would building a new apartment. The pastor pursued that issue and the result was an offer to sell the land to the church. Price and terms were discussed and when the offer was brought before the church, agreement was reached to purchase the property. Terms were for a five year owner financed loan for $50,000. The loan was paid off in eighteen months.
Church needs continued to grow and in 1998 a second Assistant Pastor, Reverend Patricia Crockett, was hired to oversee the outreach ministry. During the next two years monies were raised for work on the new site which included covering a portion of the branch which ran through the middle of the property, studies for and implementation of an approved erosion control plan, and goals were accomplished and paid for. In the year 2000 the old property was placed on the market to sell in an effort to generate monies for building.
The church waited for two years but inquiries were not productive. Plans were drawn and approved for the new facility. Early in 2002 four separate contractors were contacted for the purpose of securing bids on the project. Summer passed and no bids were given. There seemed to be a lull and discouragement knocked at the door once again. The pastor then led the church to begin a time of prayer specifically for the “relocation” effort. Prayer had certainly been a part of everything already but this call was to be focused specifically on the current relocation needs. In September of 2002 a regular early morning weekly prayer meeting was stated for the sole purpose of relocation concerns. Within weeks all bids were in.
The fellowship then voted to inquire about securing a loan so they could proceed. The loan was secured and the contractor with the lowest bid was selected. That particular contractor had included in his bid allowances for volunteer help and donated materials, a factor which God would use to effect His work.
In December of 2002 the contractor met with the church in the Quarterly Church Conference and indicated that they had a few weeks of obligated work before they could begin. Ground breaking was held in mid February of 2003. By late March walls were in place and one could begin to see something of what the structure would be like.
Through every phase of construction God miraculously brought his people together to volunteer and help get the job done. Folks worked faithfully alongside the contracted help to haul trash, put up insulation, clean us “messes,” paint, trim, varnish, lay tile, clean and repair donated cabinets, or whatever other jobs could be done. When the job was finished volunteer labor had resulted in the project coming under budget and enough money had been saved to pave the parking lot (something which was deliberately not made part of the original budget). Funds which had been raised during the building project also helped to offset expenditures so that loan payments were reduced by ten percent when the building was completed.
The first service was held in the new facility on August 24, 2003 – approximately six months from the time the ground breaking was held. Without exception the folks within the fellowship have desired that even the building process would be a witness in the community. God has made it so. Collectively the congregation has made the statement on the day of dedication – September 7, 2003 – “Look What God Hath Wrought!”
2003 - Present .... Coming Soon