The Westhampton United Methodist Church
Historical Sketch – 1832 to 1982
Written to commemorate their 150th
Anniversary, July 31, 1982
In the year 1831, Ezra Jagger had been converted at a service conducted by Reuben Harris, a circuit rider, who preached in Westhampton. Believing it to be his duty to join the Methodist Episcopal Church, Ezra went alone in his boat to Patchogue, a distance of 22 miles, to join the M.E. Church. It was not long after this that the first Methodist Class was organized in Westhampton, and brother Jagger was appointed leader. For some time they held services in the school house but some opposition was made to this, so the services were held in private homes. The need for a church was great.
The following year, 1832, the Rev. A.S. Francis, Deacon Cephus Jagger, and his son Ezra were sailing across the bay in search of beach plums. The conversation of the three men in the boat turned to the religious meetings. “Why do you not build a church for yourselves?” asked Deacon Jagger, himself a member of the Presbyterian Church.
I do not think we can get the means,” replied Rev. Francis.
Then Deacon Jagger said: “You do not know what you can do until you try.”
“Deacon, what will you give us?” asked Rev. Francis.
He paused for some time and then said: “I am a member of the other church. It will not do for me to do much.” But added, “I will put it in Ezra’s power to give the land to set it on and cut what timber he pleases out of my woods.”
“Brother Ezra, make the trial,” said Francis. This was done, with land being given near Cephus Jagger’s house, and the results were most successful. The church was soon built.
This story accounts for the date, 1832, on the cornerstone. Before this time, however, Methodist ministers held occasional services at Westhampton.
The first Methodist ministers who preached on Long Island traveled over the entire island but after awhile the Long Island circuit was divided and all the appointments outside of Brooklyn were called Hemstead Circuit. On the eastern part of the island, all the appointments were called the Suffolk Circuit. In 1828 Rev. Noble Thomas and Rev. O.V. Ammermon were the regularly appointed preachers in the Suffolk Circuit. They preached here occasionally in the school and private houses. In 1830 these early circuit riders considered Westhampton a regular appointment and services were held at a stated time.
In 1834 the Suffolk Circuit was divided again and this part of the work was called the Westhampton Mission. It included Westhampton, Speonk, Ketchebonnek (Westhampton Beach), Good Ground, Red Creek, Southport, Flanders, Fourth Neck, Moriches, Manor, Fire Place, and Bellport. Later the mission became self-supporting so they called it the Westhampton Circuit.
In 1831 Ezra Jagger went to Speonk, organized a Sabbath (Sunday) School, and was the first superintendent. This group of scholars and teachers were transferred to the new church after it was built, with Mr. Issac C. Halsey the first superintendent.
Many others were converted by Rev. Reuben Harris and the Methodist Society grew. The first members of this Society were Silas Tuthill, Thomas Rogers, Charles Howell, Phebe Corwin, and John Gordon. Three years later, their leader, Ezra Jagger, entered the ministry and became a member of the New York East Conference.
At this time, no Sunday School was held during the winter months. Since 1860 there have been services throughout the year. In 1856 one minister was appointed to Westhampton and Moriches and the parsonage was built at Westhampton. In 1870, Westhampton became a separate station.
The tower and the steeple were added to the church under the pastorate of Rev. W.E. Smith, 1890-91.
In 1905, twelve or fifteen feet were cut off the front of the old church and ground was broken for a new church. This new structure was attached to the remaining section of the old church, which was used as the Sunday School room and as a part of the church auditorium, when large crowds required extra room. On the east side a roof extended out from the church. This enabled people to get out of their carriages with protection from the weather. Behind the church there were open sheds for the horses. The water supply came from a tank and windmill in the back of the church.
A new parsonage was erected in 1917.
At 4:00 in the afternoon on January 15, 1919, the church structure was completely destroyed by fire. The firemen were able to save the parsonage. With remarkable courage and loyalty the people set about rebuilding. Church services were held across the street at the Tanners Neck School in the interim.
Mr. Leonard L. Bishop, architect, who had designed the church building in 1905, also designed the new building. Mr. F.W. Raynor personally supervised the interior of the church, including the beautiful Tiffany windows. Mr. E.O. Fordham, contractor, built the church, rushing it through to completion. Mr. Gaston Bishop built a waterproof basement and social room. Mr. Herbert Culver did the plumbing and steam heating system.
Money was borrowed for this, but the following men stood behind the bills, in case the church was not able to meet their commitments. Members of the building committee were Mr. A.J. Hallock, Mr. E.O. Fordham, Mr. Willard F. Jagger, Mr. Archie Raynor, and Mr. Ludvig D. Ehlers. The cornerstone was laid on May 25, 1919, and the church was dedicated on Nov 9, 1919
On Sunday evening, July 10, 1927, the burning of the church mortgage was witnessed by an audience that crowded the church and the church school room.
The church has continued, through good times and bad. The organist, Mrs. Lucille Dawson Ceruti, has given of her musical talent for 40 years. She has hardly ever missed a Sunday. Mr. Louis Green sang in the choir for 50 years. A number of trustees have stayed in that capacity for over thirty years. Many of the members have been very faithful to the church.
The Sunday School is presently numerically the most ever. Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Angell combine as superintendents. In early summer the church holds Daily Vacation Bible School, which is open to children who belong to other churches in the area, as well as their own church families.
In 1968 the Methodist Church nationwide joined with the Evangelical United Brethren. Since then the church has been called the Westhampton United Methodist Church.
The ministers continue to perform many duties and outreach to the community. The church members have taken pride in their church and have given generously of their time and means to carry on the work. This spirit continues and their belief in Jesus grows. They are proud of this milestone, the 150th Anniversary of the “West Church.”
In the early 1980’s it became apparent that the congregation had
outgrown the original structure. More
sanctuary space was needed for worship services and the Sunday School classes
were overflowing into all available spaces.
Under the pastorate of Rev. Diego Flores, Jr. (1964-2003) a building
program was initiated. After much
prayer, planning, and hard work, our new addition was completed.
Our deepest wish was that our church would not be in debt because of this
endeavor. As we built, the monies
came in from the members and all the bills were met.
On November 22, 1987 there was a dedication service, banquet, and
ceremony with Rev. and Mrs. Elemit Brooks attending (superintendent of the Long
Island East District) as the principle speaker.
A cornerstone was laid and the church immediately started enjoying the
new space (six classrooms, larger sanctuary, narthex, and restrooms).
Through the 80’s and 90’s and into the 2000’s, we held tent meetings
each summer at “Bailey’s Field” in Westhampton.
Usually held over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, many different
preachers and musical groups participated in the services.
This was an outreach to the community at large.
The good news of Jesus was preached and at the conclusion of each meeting
there was always an altar call for salvation and healing.
In 2003, before the arrival of our new pastor, Rev. John V. Roy, there
was a renovation of the parsonage. Much
electronic updating of the sanctuary began around this time including an
up-to-date sound system, with an elaborate sound board, microphones, and
speakers were some of the first additions.
Computers for record keeping and running the programs for our over-head
projector were a great aid to worship. The
congregation can now sing with our Praise & Worship group because the words
are on a screen in the front of the sanctuary.
As we continue all the programs of the church, we hope to progress with the times, but also hope to keep true to our faith in preaching the Gospel to all who have ears to hear.