It is a familiar white church on the country roads of Talbot County. Its artistic steeple, housing a traditional church bell in its belfry, rises above the tree tops to welcome its members, its neighbors, and the community at large. On Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 3 p.m., the Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a Homecoming Celebration Service and welcomes the community to share in its celebration of its vibrant tradition of service to the community.
Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church (ROCUMC) has been served by Pastor Chris Pettit for the past eight years while he pursued his Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary. The church has experienced a resurgence in recent years with several families and young adults participating in the life of the church. Pettit has enjoyed the help of retired Pastor Emeritis Garry Parker who himself served the church as Elder from 1981 to 1984. Pettit comments, “It has been wonderful to draw upon Garry’s wisdom and experience as I have worked with our leadership in developing outreach to the community and opportunities for discipleship within the church.”
Today, as a multigenerational church, the church has over 100 active members who are making an impact on the greater Eastern Shore community in significant ways. Pastor Pettit states, “Our vision is to be a healthy, growing and dynamic church engaged in the whole community and serving to witness what God has for all people.”
The church’s mission, “To live, love, and serve as disciples of Jesus Christ,” has the church’s tentacles reaching out through a variety of missions. JR Burkhardt, a lay leader and Chairman of Family Ministries, along with Robyn Allen, Youth Pastor, have worked to grow the church’s participation in the area of youth mission over the past five years. The church is offering a program called “Open Doors,” collaborating with other Talbot County churches to utilize professional inspirational speakers to talk to youth about making good decisions. In 2016, Open Doors welcomed popular youth speaker Reggie Dabbs who spoke to every grade at each of the county’s public schools.
The ROCUMC youth group has 30 to 40 youth who want to serve the church and the community. According to Allen, the “Bug Club,” includes elementary school students who meet once a month on Friday nights to learn about the bible and share activities. The club also utilizes older children in the church to help with babysitting services which allows parents in the church to go out to dinner or to a movie once a month. Allen adds, “The youth also volunteer at the Chesapeake Center, Baleigh Chase, Genesis The Pines, Haven Ministries, the Talbot Interfaith Shelter and Habitat for Humanity throughout the year. These mission projects have helped them put their faith in practice.”
The church also supports global mission projects, including support of a program called “Lunches for Learning,” which helps children in Honduras stay in school through grade six. The congregation also participates in Operation Christmas, which provides shoeboxes to needy children across the globe during the holidays. In addition to its global missions, the church offers a community Thanksgiving dinner each year.
Burkhardt, whose two children are 5th generation members of the church, adds, “Our church was established for the Royal Oak Community and now it has expanded beyond Royal Oak with members from all over Talbot County. Our worship has adapted with the times and we offer a blended traditional and contemporary service for our multigenerational membership, blending the technology of today with the church’s past traditions.”
The church’s history began in the spring of 1866, after the end of the Civil War. The Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church, known originally as the Harmony Methodist Episcopal Church South, was organized at this time under the leadership of Rev. Francis A. Mercer and a number of laymen. In the fall of 1866, a revival occurred in the church and the church began to grow. Through the efforts of Rev. Mercer and others, churches were established that year in Trappe and Hillsboro and the group of churches became known as the Talbot Circuit. The village was also served by the Royal Oak Methodist Church North during this period, and by 1891, a Methodist church was also built in Tilghman. At this point, the name given to the circuit including Royal Oak, Trappe and Tilghman was the Royal Oak – Tilghman Charge.
In 1940, the Royal Oak Methodist Church North and the Harmony Methodist Episcopal Church South merged and the new church became known as the Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church (ROCUMC). The Royal Oak Methodist Church South’s building was chosen as the new church home. Beginning in 1970, under the leadership of Rev. Carlton Harris, the church became a one-church charge and major improvements were made to the property, including renovations to the church school area, improvements in the parking area, and renovation of the kitchen. In 1990, improvements were made to the sanctuary and belfry and in 1991, the present Fellowship Hall was completed. The last major improvement was made in 2004 when a new parsonage was built next door.
While the church’s history is significant in the growth of Methodism on the Eastern Shore, its roots have always been in service to its community. Pastor Petitt, adds, “We have evolved into an inclusive church that is truly serving our community. Our mission focus creates a broader view of the world. We are joining God where he is already at work in our community and abroad. It is really transforming our congregation.”
The Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church is located at 6968 Bellevue Road in Royal Oak, MD. The October 2 event will include a cover dish dinner directly after the service in the church’s Fellowship Hall. For further information, contact JR Burkhardt, Chairman of the 150th Anniversary Celebration, at 410-829-5832.
#1: Pictured are the youth of the Harmony Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1920.
#2: Pictured are the youth of the Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church today. On Sunday, October 2, 2016 at 3 p.m., the Royal Oak Community United Methodist Church will celebrate its 150th anniversary with a Homecoming Celebration Service.