In the early days of Gwinnett County, prior to 1818, a group worshipped in a small chapel known as the Medlock Chapel, located on what is now Rockbridge Road. Around 1820, the congregation moved nearer to the present site of Norcross, about where the power station is located.
In 1823 and 1824, Rev. William J. “Billy” Parks was assigned to the Gwinnett Mission, which he described as “newly settled country.” He traveled for miles through the woods and reported that the people rejoiced to see a minister come. He described that period as “happy successful years in my ministry: Souls were converted, churches organized and a few plain little log buildings erected.”
One of those churches may have been Mount Carmel, or perhaps Mount Carmel was organized a few years later by some of the people from the Medlock Chapel congregation. We believe that the first building was built on this site in 1828 on five acres of land donated for the church. Rev. Parks was once again assigned to Gwinnett and was our first pastor. He was a circuit rider with several churches and probably only preached at Mount Carmel once a month. An eyewitness describes Billy Parks in this way:
He was dressed in the humblest garb of the country, poorly fitting coat of plain jeans, cut in the old Methodist style, a coppery dyed linsey vest, coarse pantaloons too short for him, blue yarn socks, and heavy brogan shoes. His appearance provoked a good-natured grin from the congregation, themselves not dressed in the height of fashion; but before the sermon was finished, they were smiling in the realization that a real man was among them.
In 1876, the members of Mount Carmel decided to build a second building on the same site. It was located slightly to the east of this building, in what is now part of the cemetery. In her memoir, Alone with My Thoughts, longtime member Alice Youngblood describes the1876 building as drafty and cold in the winter; the wood stove often smoked and gave off little warmth, especially when the wood was wet or green. Services were now held twice a month. There were benches, not pews, and the men and women sat on opposite sides of the church.
The third week of August was “meeting week” or revival, with services held morning and evening each day. The weather would be hot and humid, but was made somewhat more bearable by the constant use of handheld fans. The time for our present Homecoming Service, the third Sunday in August, dates back to this meeting week tradition.
In 1911, Mount Carmel had 220 members and was one of four churches that made up the Norcross Circuit. The churches in the circuit had an annual outdoor Sunday School celebration during those years. It was reported that the other Sunday Schools feared Mount Carmel because we almost always carried off the blue ribbon when it came to singing.
By the early 1920’s, members of Mount Carmel felt the need for a more comfortable, spacious, and up-to-date church sanctuary. Most of these were farmers. With poor crop conditions and low prices prevailing, they decided if they ever built a new church, much of the labor and materials would have to be donated; sufficient cash was not to be had. Some of the more interested workers would occasionally get up a barbecue, thereby raising funds and also serving the purpose of a get-together meeting.
It was at one of these barbecues that Mr. John Mills of Atlanta volunteered to give five hundred dollars to a church fund. Mr. T. E. Summerour, of Norcross, also expressed a willingness to contribute liberally. From these promises, the flame of enthusiasm spread. A short time thereafter, a building committee was elected. Among the members were Henry Bolton, Amos Carroll, and Hugh Medlock. We have direct descendents of all those members in our congregation today.
Work started on the foundation in the fall of 1924. A master mechanic was employed to supervise the project, but most of the labor was provided free by the members of the church. Some equipment and materials were donated, and others were obtained at bargain prices. The work was almost complete in early August of 1925, in time for the August revival meeting, and the formal dedication was held in May, 1926.
In 1939, three Methodist denominations in the United States, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South and the Methodist Protestant Church merged to form The Methodist Church. Mount Carmel had been part of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. In a 1921 booklet that’s back in the History Room, it was simply called Mount Carmel M. E. Church South. You’ll notice they were willing to abbreviate Methodist and Episcopal but they weren’t going to omit South from the name!
In 1951 new pews were added to the sanctuary. Most of them were given as memorials, and you can see the plaques on the ends of the pews. The Women’s Society was chartered in 1952, and the Men’s Club was organized in 1954. We started having Barbeques around 1955. In 1956, the basement under the sanctuary was dug out, and the kitchen and old fellowship hall right beneath us were finished. The parsonage across the street was built in 1960. Sunday School rooms behind the sanctuary were built in 1963 and 1964. The Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren and became the United Methodist Church in 1969. The first fulltime pastor was assigned to Mount Carmel in 1972. The sanctuary was air-conditioned in 1974. We purchased the Hope House in 1986. We started the preschool in 1989.
By 1998 the church had outgrown the original Fellowship Hall; plans were made to build a new Fellowship Hall, kitchen, and Sunday School wing, as well as a paved parking lot, but there was dissension in the church over the cutting down of a number of beautiful old trees. However, in April of 1998, just a few days before Easter, a tornado struck, damaged the roof in the old Sunday School addition and also knocked down a lot of those trees. The disagreement became a moot point, and groundbreaking for the Fellowship Hall took place that fall. It was a huge leap of faith to take on such a large capital expenditure, but with many generous contributions and some help from a bequest, we burned the mortgage at Homecoming in 2006.