benns church outside photo

There will be something fun every month leading up to a big celebration on July 7th, stay tuned! See below...

We need your input-----“A Century of Memories" As part of our celebration of the 100th anniversary of our sanctuary we are looking for short reminisces from you about Benn’s, the sanctuary, or the fellowship you experienced here. You can email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or drop off in the office.

APRIL 21, 2024
Come, celebrate Rev. Tommy Reynold's 65 years of faithful service on Sunday, April 21 here at Benn's UMC. 
As part of our anniversary celebrations, we will honor Rev. Reynolds who has served as Interim Pastor of this church with a reception after the 11:00 am worship service.
 Rev. Reynolds is known for his willingness to serve wherever needed. Even after officially retiring, he accepted to take on leading worship services and preaching in many churches in this area.
 He is well remembered for his time as Chaplain at Obici Hospital where he ministered to many families in difficult times. He continues to serve through Little Funeral Home comforting many as they grieve their loved ones.
 For his loving attitude and willingness to bring joy and consolation to all people wherever he goes, we will celebrate his faithfulness with joy!
cntlmusic plaques
Today (3-17-2024) we presented two plaques honoring those who are part of our history as we celebrate the 100 anniversary of the current Sanctuary at Benn's UMC. A plaque honoring "Music throughout the years" will be placed behind the organ to remember those faithful musicians who enhance our worship. Also, a plaque to honor "The Women of Benn's Methodist Church" will be placed beyond the door of our original kitchen as we honor the faithful women who prepared meals to raise funds to fulfill the debt of constructing our house of worship.
Historical Notes By John Edwards: The Debt Retired
The late Madeline R. Parker was a member of Benn's from her marriage in 1922 until her death in 1991. Having joined the church at a young age, she was one among many women who worked tirelessly to retire the debt incurred when Benn's "new" home was built beginning in 1924.
 The Suffolk News Herald recorded the original cost of the church as $22,500, a figure that I am un comfortable with, given the church's size, but I've been unable to refute the amount. At any rate, the debt on the church was significant for its small congregation. The building was completed just as the Great Depression was beginning. Pork and peanut prices were badly depressed, farms were in foreclosure and there just wasn't a lot of money available for anyone or anything. One of Mrs. Parker's favorite memories about the church in those days was the comment allegedly made to her by one of the church's note holders. He famously said he would end up hanging hams from the rafters of the church before the debt was ever retired. Whether that story is apocryphal or not, the ladies and young people of Benn's ensured that it would never happen, and their combined efforts to pay off the debt speak of a level of faith, loyalty and determination that's just downright remarkable. The earliest Smithfield Times papers available
for our use today were printed in 1928, and from that year until 1943, the paper regularly carried no ices of fundraising efforts at Benn's. They were assorted and creative. In 1928, the church sponsored two spelling bees, and charged contestants 50 cents each to show their stuff. Spectators were welcome. They could watch at a spectator fee of two for 25 cents. The most popular fundraising events at the church, though, were the ladies' turkey dinners. They were held every fall around Thanksgiving, and were coupled with an annual bazaar. Church members and friends of Benn's worked for months each year making everything from fancy lace to canned goods that could be sold at the annual bazaar. The popularity of the events was noted in the newspaper's 1928 announcement:"This is a good date for us to remember, as we will not only get our money's worth, but will be helping a very worthy cause by lending our presence and patronizing this group of church workers." The ladies regularly had booths at the county fair, and in 1929 ran a newspaper notice thanking residents of Battery Park and Smithfield for donating oysters and hams to be sold in the booth. The Smithfield Ruritan Club began meeting in the church basement sometime in the 1930s, and were fed dinner each month by Benn's ladies. 
Other groups met here as well, including the Smithfield Rotary Club, though it appears to have done so less often than the Ruritans. The ladies were energetic and innovative. They sold chicken salad and "sweets" at the P.P. Gay Motor Company in downtown Smithfield in1939, and on several occasions hosted something they referred to as the "Fifth Friendly Feed" at thechurch. I have been impressed not only by what the ladies of Benn's did back then, but also what the church's young people accomplished. The youth group of that era held Valentine Parties and took up a "silver offering" that would go toward the church debt. They also held Chinese Checkers parties as fund raisers for the debt. Probably the most unique undertaking by the young people, however, was an oyster dinner they hosted in 1932. "You may have your choice of fried, stewed or raw oysters and a Thanksgiving dessert," the newspaper notice declared. And so it went, through years of economicdepression and on into World War II. Remarkably, the final $3,000 of debt was paid off in the midst of the war, in 1943, and the church was declared debt free. Much of the work that went into retiring that debt took place in a tiny kitchen only 10 by 12 feet, located near the basement entrance of the original building.  As part of this year's centennial observance, we've affixed a small plaque to the wall just outside of that kitchen. It reads: "Beyond the door to your right is the original kitchen of this church. Within this tiny room the women of Benn's prepared meals that became legendary in the community, and in doing so raised funds that paid off much of the debt incurred in constructing our house of worship." Thanks to the ladies and youth of the church, hams never hung from the rafters.

Historical Notes By John Edwards:  A Church Built of Brick

The gothic revival church whose construction we celebrate this year wasn't designed by a group of church members sitting around a table one evening. The concept may have been, but the building design was the work of one of the region's foremost public building architects.

We have no detailed drawings from the church's construction. What we do have is a single architect's rendering of the future building. It's undated and was probably used by church leaders to promote the project to members of the congregation, with an aim toward raising funds to pay for it.

A. Byron Williams was the architect, according to the name on the rendering. He was principal architect with Williams, Coile and Blanchard of Newport News. That firm seems to have morphed into Williams, Coile and Pipino, and apparently at the time of Williams' death, became Forrest Coile Associates.

Unfortunately, the firm went out of business just a couple of years ago, and the search for plans probably isn't worth pursuing it further. During its 70 -year run, though, the firm designed over 350 schools in Hampton Roads, according to the Daily Press, and with that kind of track record, it's only logical that they probably designed more churches than just Benn's.

A check with the Virginia Conference's historian also failed to turn up any information about the construction of Benn's or Mr. Williams.

There was also no building code back then, so no government-required files were created.

Construction details are thus limited to what we see, but what we see is that Benn's church leaders placed themselves in good hands, and the church that emerged has stood for a century without significant problems. The rendering, a very precise drawing of the building that stands today, proves that its construction was professionally planned. That and what we see tells a story about the building we have inherited. Here are a few facts.

The brick walls of Benn's are unusually thin. The single brick thickness is quite thin for a building constructed solely of brick rather than more modern construction practices, which would likely have included concrete blocks and brick veneer. The bricks were also laid in six-course American bond, with six rows of brick running lengthways and one turned across the wall to tie it together. That too is unusual. Three and five-course bonds form a stronger brick tie and are more typical of older buildings.

The brick buttresses that flank the sides of the church lend some thickness along its walls and do add support to the structure, but not a huge amount.

The church is also strengthened by its most dramatic feature, the lofted ceiling in the sanctuary. The heavy timber trusses and ornate wood ties complete the gothic design that was in vogue at the time, as well as tying Benn's to its historic antecedent, Historic St. Luke's.

The church sits on the edge of an ancient sand dune, known as the Suffolk Scarp, and as the Bible warns, only a foolish man builds on sand, which isn't the firmest of all foundation materials. Despite all of that, Benn's has stood for a century with remarkably little brick settling or cracking.

The most logical explanation would seem to be that Mr. Williams knew his business and was a cautious person. He insisted on a very thick bed of concrete for the foundation that would support Benn's. Thus, our forebears (and their architect) did indeed follow the biblical warning and built on rock. It was just rock-hard concrete mixed and poured by men.

The church leaders who chose to build a brick structure fully understood the site that George Benn had donated more than a century earlier. The sandy soil on which Benn's rests is quite attractive to termites, which had eaten their way through the woodframed church that was being replaced.

The pests don't give up easily. Wood inside the brick walls of the present church has been attacked by termites. About 15 years ago, the entry stairs on the north side of the original building had to be replaced because of termite damage, just proving that, in construction, nothing is 100 percent foolproof. But termites do find brick difficult to conquer, and Benn's perseveres.

Thank you, 1924 Benn's trustees and Mr. A. Byron Williams.

Note: if anyone in our congregation knows arhitects in Hampton Roads who might be familiar with Byron White and his son by the same name, I would love to know more about them, and particularly whether their records have been preserved


 Historical Notes by John Edwards: Why Celebrate a Building's Anniversary?

Why commemorate the construction of our church's physical home? A church, after all, isn't a building. It's the people who occupy that building, and it's the spirit that moves those people to worship together, to minister to one another and to the community around them, in Christian love and fellowship.
And yet, our physical home is important. It helps define where we came from and who we are today, what our values are, what we hope to accomplish as a Christian  and in our instance, Methodist  congregation. And it provides the physical setting in which we can grow as a congregation.
Our church grew out of a revival movement known as the Great Awakening. During the latter years of that movement, missionaries sent to the American colonies by John Wesley preached often fiery sermons up and down the Atlantic coast, including Virginia. Out of those circuit riding efforts emerged Methodist Societies, including one here.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in 1784, only a year after the American Revolution ended with the Treaty of Paris. Five years after that, in 1789, the local Methodist Society officially became a Methodist Episcopal Church.
A relatively prosperous member of the local congregation, George Benn, provided land for construction of a church building, and one is known to have been here in 1800. At that time, Mr. Benn still owned the land on which the building sat, but when he died in 1813, he left property to the "Methodist Connection" so that what by then was known as Benn's Church, would have a permanent home.
That first church must have been quite modest, for a second building was constructed in 1839, and  curiously  a third in 1888. There are no known records to indicate why the second or third building was constructed during such a brief time frame.
We know what happened to the third, and it could well have been the fate of the first two termites. During my lifetime, older members who were born in the early 1900s recalled that the small, frame church was riddled with termites to the point that the floor collapsed during a worship service. No one was injured, but the incident fueled the desire for a new church, and construction of that church began with a cornerstone ceremony on July 4, 1924.
It's that event that we will commemorate this year, culminating in a special service on July 7, and here's why it's particularly important to this church.
During the 1920s, most rural areas didn't have electricity, but this site did. Virginia Power had by then provided Suffolk and Smithfield with that remarkable new utility, and the lines ran down Highway 10, right by Benn's. That single fact gave the church leaders here the opportunity to plan a church with a local mission far more ambitious than had previously been possible.
There were few if any significant indoor gathering places for rural residents at the time, and the trustees of Benn's saw fit to build such a place. They would construct a brick church that provided not only a beautiful sanctuary but also a basement that would offer, of all things, indoor plumbing. That meant restrooms rather than outhouses and a modern furnace and radiators to heat the building. A kitchen, complete with modern appliances, would make onsite meal preparation possible for large events.
Not only would the church have space for a full and vigorous Sunday School program, but it would also accommodate church and community wide events. This new church home would thus be able to serve the Benn's Church and Carrollton communities in ways never before possible.
It was a huge success. For decades, Benn's served as the meeting place for the Smithfield Ruritan Club and other local civic organizations, as well as host to regional Methodist meetings, according to announcements in The Smithfield Times.
As the church grew-and it did-the original building became inadequate to accommodate modern needs. The Sunday School program outgrew the old basement area available to it, and in the late 1960s, the church's first major expansion was undertaken. That Sunday School wing enabled the church to open a preschool program that's still going strong a half century later.
The desire for a modern social center that was so much a part of the thinking in 1924 never faded, and in the 1990s led to the most recent expansion, the Family Life Center.
Today, we remain what we were in 1789-a Methodist congregation united in Christian faith and the principles espoused by John Wesley and other founders of the Methodist movement. But we are also unquestionably strengthened by the physical plant that enables our local ministry to serve our members and the community around us.
And the first step in creating that facility  the laying of its cornerstone a century ago  is, indeed, a cause for celebration.

 Historical Notes by John Edwards: A Brief History of Benn’s United Methodist Church

(By Eliza Timberlake Davis 1934)
In 1805, Bishop Asbury wrote that "God had wrought powerfully at Blunt’s and Benn’s."
Before the ‘Meeting House’ had been erected, they were accustomed to hold services at the homes. Frequently Bishop Asbury would arrive unexpectedly, and messengers would be sent out to announce such services, held at night in these houses, and they would hasten thither on foot and horse back to hear the word of God ex-pounded to them.
At the time that a meeting house was erected on these grounds, the land was owned by George Benn, whose gravestone is on the farm near Smithfield, now owned by Mr. Mary McIlnaine — the Carl Beale Farm. The pilasters which support the slab are gone, and it lies flat on the ground in a tangled thicket of briers and weeds. Mr. George Benn owned the farm above mentioned at his death and was buried not far from where his residence stood long since destroyed by fire.
(The stone was subsequently moved to the grounds in front of the church, where it remains today.)
In 1813, George Benn deeded to the Methodist denomination the ‘land between the roads; on which the ‘Meeting House’ now stands. He also gave enough land, back of the ‘Meeting House,’ sufficient for their needs in holding Camp Meetings.
That the Methodists did use the grounds for Camp Meetings, here, is proved by the following: Asbury wrote in the year 1820, April 28, “On Thursday, I preached at Benn’s Chapel, Isle of Wight, we had a decent, but not a feeling congregation.” The next year they seem to be shaken out of their indifference, and his writings sound a different note. Again he writes in his diary, “At a Camp Meeting in Isle of Wight the spirit descended in great power, and the praise of God burst from the life of many who had been strangers to his name; one hundred and fifty were born from above.”’
The Church, we know, was rebuilt in 1838, and again in 1888. The present handsome building in 1924.
These great oaks that surround this Church were here before the white man came. Under their sheltering boughs the first rude structure was set up. Here came on foot, through the forests, and on horseback, in rude vehicles over rough trails, the men and women of early Methodism, with their children to worship God. Later they journeyed in gigs and wagons, and on horseback to a more spacious house of worship. Then, in wheeled carriages and buggies to a newer building. Today from homes in which there are modern conveniences and luxury, riding in swift moving automo-biles, over smooth wide roads, we come to this beautiful house of God, to remember our Heavenly Father’s love and care and tender mercies through the years. We thank him for the lives that have been lived in this community; for the inestimable influence their living has had upon the character of those who worship here today, and in other lands and places where life’s duties have called them.
“In graves marked, and unmarked they sleep, their souls with God.”
(The above is an excerpt from “A HISTORY OF BENN’S CHURCH” by Mrs. Eliza Timberlake Davis, written on May 27, 1934, in Smithfield, Virginia.
One of the great losses in the history of Benn’s United Methodist Church is the full text of “A History of Benn’s Church,” written by Eliza Timberlake Davis. The excerpt above is all that remains of this remarkable lady’s historic research.
When Benn’s celebrated its Bicentennial in 1989, we searched diligently for the full text of the history. Descendants of Mrs. Davis were contacted and other leads pursued, but to no avail. It is possible that only a single copy of her work ever existed. Someday it, or a possible copy, may be found.
Until then, we have her cherished excerpt. Most of it is accurate, especially that portion dealing with George Benn and the notes of Francis Asbury. Some is romanticized, as was the style in her day. For example, the “great oaks” to which she referred were not virgin tim-ber dating to the preJamestown era. Such embellishments don’t detract from a history written with love.