A Piece of Bright Hope Laurel United Methodist Church History
Bright Hope Methodist Church was established in the late 1890’s, the first services attended by both the Methodists and the Pleasant Valley Baptist congregations. For a few years each congregation convened in a log building near what is now known as “the old parsonage,” on Smith Creek Road in rural Mars Hill. A member, Jane English Culberson, chose the name, “Bright Hope” to show how the congregation felt about welcoming all people in this new beginning. The Methodists continued worshiping there until the early 1960’s when they built what became the Bright Hope Parsonage on Smith Creek Road.
Early records of the Upper Laurel Methodist Church, despite extensive searches over the years, have never been found, but reports of older members conclude it was organized between 1855 and 1860. Documents show that the original Upper Laurel Methodist Church, in the Upper Laurel-Ivy section of Madison County, about three miles south of Bright Hope Methodist Church, was part of the Burnsville (Yancy County) Circuit, the 1869 Methodist Journal stating that the “Burnsville Circuit is to include Yancy County and that part of Madison County now embraced in that circuit.”
Around 1907 Upper Laurel members moved from a building near Wolfpit Road, “a weather-boarded house with one front door and three windows on either side, built from lumber sawed at a local mill, with hand drawn shingles and pews made by hand.” The move to locate nearer the center of the community was made possible on January 1, 1907, when land on which the present church sits was deeded by J.J. Reed and wife Retta Banks Reed “for the love and affection they had for the cause of Christ” to O.H., W.M. and I.L. English, Trustees of the Upper Laurel Methodist Episcopal Church. The building there was used by the Upper Laurel Methodist Church for 50 years until it “came in need of repairs.”
During this time, Bright Hope, with a sizable membership, a fellowship hall and three classrooms, was unsuccessfully struggling to raise funds to build a sanctuary. Meanwhile, thanks to Ethel Moyer’s tireless fund-raising efforts, Upper Laurel – three miles south – had emerged with a building but very few members.
Naturally, discussions evolved around the possible merger of the two churches and their respective congregations as a sensible course with advantages to each. There was some resistance to a merger from a few Bright Hope folks who desired to keep their own church; however, having no sanctuary and no money, eventual merger appeared inevitable.
Stepping into this situation was Rev. Charles Durrant, a former anesthesiologist who served at Bright Hope June 1975 until June, 1981. Rev Durrant, a persuasive leader able to work with disparate factions, managed to bring the groups together to agree to merge on October 5, 1975, using Upper Laurel’s building. Bright Hope lost only 2 members as a result.
The newly-merged church, Bright Hope Laurel United Methodist Church (hereinafter Bright Hope Laurel), initially was part of the Charge that included Mars Hill Methodist Church in downtown Mars Hill, as well as both the Upper Laurel and Bright Hope Methodist Churches. Prior to the merger the three churches shared a minister and an assistant, the assistant conducting services each Sunday at Upper Laurel and Bright Hope, leaving one during the closing hymn to preach at the other. After the merger in 1975, Bright Hope Laurel became an independent congregation having its own pastor.
Today Bright Hope Laurel is an active, vibrant church in the Blue Ridge District (headquartered in Asheville) of the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, consisting of a congregation from the two original church communities as well as many full- and part-time residents of the Wolf Laurel community and all others. Among its many activities, Bright Hope Laurel stages an annual Apple Butter Festival in September, a fun-filled event drawing people from around the Asheville area and raising money for charities.
Bright Hope Laurel is known by many as “the little church with a big heart” for its unselfishness in fulfilling its ministry of welcoming all and assisting those in need.