1845-1bFar from the multicultural, urban environment that now surrounds our church, the “Methodist Episcopal Church” was founded in early 1845 in an area that lay 12 miles outside the city limits of Memphis, in a wooded area surrounded by farms and plantations. In the area that would eventually become the busy intersection of Mendenhall and Walnut Grove, planters and slaves alike came to worship together on Sunday evenings with candles and torches for their light and only a brush arbor to shield them from the elements. 1845-2bOn July 15, 1845, Gabriel and Martha Anderson deeded two acres of this land to the church for the price of $18, and a log cabin was soon built to replace the brush arbor. It was in 1847 that the church acquired the name “Mullins,” named after Lorenzo Dow Mullins, the church’s first regular pastor.
CIVIL WAR ERA:
In 1845, Memphis was little more than a large town, with a population of less than 8,000. However, it was growing quickly for a city that had been founded only 26 years previously, in 1819. The city’s growth, however, was largely due to “King Cotton,” the area’s main crop, a business that relied heavily on the labor of slaves. As tensions grew, the city was divided — should it remain in the Union and maintain its strong ties with the northern textile industry, or secede to protect the slave labor that the economy seemed to require? The Civil War ensued, and Memphis fell to the Union in 1862, becoming the headquarters of General Ulysses S. Grant. 1876-1bDuring this period, the log cabin that housed Mullins was dismantled by General Sherman so that the materials could be used to help construct Fort Hurst. Left without a building, the congregation met in a nearby school for the next 12 years. Finally, the church members were able to reclaim their materials from Fort Hurst; they added to these materials in order to build a one-room, frame building. This building was dedicated by 35 members on July 2, 1876. Despite the yellow fever epidemics that claimed tens of thousands in Memphis in the 1870s, Mullins persevered, and its congregation nearly doubled to 60 members in 1887.
TURN OF THE CENTURY:
By 1892, Memphis was finally recovered from the Civil War and from yellow fever. Its population had doubled since the epidemic, the first library was under construction, and the “Great Bridge” was dedicated. At this time, Mullins also continued to grow, expanding its property to include a cemetery with an acre of land purchased from W. L. Harvey for $75 in February. One month later, the first person was interred at the cemetery belonging to “Mullins Chapel.” In 1897, an 80-member congregation was able to replace the frame building with a larger New England-style church building, complete with siding and steeple, that would last for nearly 50 years.
WORLD WAR II ERA:
In 1941, after the Great Depression and the Mississippi River Great Flood brought many homeless to Memphis, the city had grown to a population of nearly 300,000. As the country watched World War II escalate, Mullins also faced a crossroads in its history. On December 14, 1941, just one week after Pearl Harbor, nine members of Mullins, along with the pastor and the District Superintendent, met to discuss the church’s fate. With the New-England style church building deteriorating badly, Rev. H. A. Butts recommended closure of the church, and the motion was seconded. Had the vote been taken then, the church might have been disbanded. However, Superintendent Dr. C. C. Grimes called for further discussion. One church member asked to speak, saying “I was born in this community and I was baptized in this church. I believe Mullins will again be a thriving rural church, and I for one am anxious to see it continue.” Five of the other members agreed, and Mullins began anew, eventually growing so that it became a regular station, rather than depending on ministers who rode circuit. Rev. Clark W. Bell was first appointed to this position in 1943, and continued with Mullins until 1945.
POST-WORLD WAR II ERA:
As soldiers came home and began to put down roots after World War II, the farmlands around Mullins began a shift toward suburban neighborhoods to accommodate the growing population of well over 300,000. It was during this time that the congregation of Mullins, 145 members strong, discovered that the New England-style building had finally deteriorated beyond repair. The decision was made at that time to demolish the building and replace it with a new, sound replica. Calvary Episcopal Church graciously lent the congregation their chapel during reconstruction of the building, with opened in 1947.
In a few short years, by 1950, the congregation of Mullins had more than doubled, to 312. In a city of now almost 400,000 people, Mullins was thriving in a community that was named the quietest, cleanest, and safest city in the country on several occasions. The growth in membership required more Sunday School space, leading to the construction of the “Fisher Memorial Church School Building,” now known affectionately as “The Fisher Wing.” The city continued to grow around the church, witnessing the opening of the original Holiday Inn just blocks away, and the church campus grew along with it, buying more property and expanding parking to accommodate its members.
In 1957, construction began on a new Sanctuary, Fellowship Hall, and kitchen, which remains the main church building today. The new Sanctuary sat 500 members and focused the congregation’s attention on the altar space and the unique, hand-carved wooden cross. In this era, as Memphis experienced cultural change brought on by both the civil rights movement and the arrival of Elvis Presley, Mullins’ congregation swelled to 2,000 members. Further growth was needed, and a new Education Wing was built in 1960 to accommodate the growing need for Sunday School class and nursery space. Shortly thereafter, in 1967, Mullins welcomed its first Boy Scout troop and opened what would later become the Buster Graves Memorial Gymnasium.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the neighborhood surrounding Mullins began to undergo drastic change. The local elementary school, Avon Elementary, was converted to a school for special needs children. A population shift began toward suburban cities, brought on by cultural shifts such as the institution of busing in the Memphis City Schools. Still, while population growth decreased drastically from its previous average of 100,000 people per decade to an average of around 30,000, Mullins experienced its peak membership in 1982, counting 2,149 of the faithful among its members. In the same year, Mullins’ construction mortgage was paid off.
In the 1990s, membership began to drop. However, a core group remained loyal, refurbishing the grounds and redecorating the Sanctuary to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary in 1995. At that celebration were six members who had attended Mullins for over 50 years – and two members descended from founding fathers of the church William Sims Mendenhall and Rev. Lorenzo Dow Mullins.
21ST CENTURY / LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE:
Today, in a city of more than 650,000 people in a major urban area, the Mullins’ congregation is working actively to meet the needs of this ever-changing community. We are blessed with a variety of active ministries for adults, youth , and children. We offer a Parents Day Out program for both members and non-members. Our Music Department is integral to our worship, and reches out to the community.
Despite all of the changes in the church and the surrounding community in its more than 160-year history, Mullins really remains today what it has always been, since 1845 – an active, loving, warm Christian community serving not only its congregation, but also its community, to the glory of God.