Persons UMC: Steeped in history 

By Mark Person  

Persons UMC in Southampton, also known as the Old Church, is steeped in history and probably can best be described in the words of the late Marie B. Turner as a microcosm of Southampton County, the state of Virginia and the United States of America. The first church was established here while Virginia was still a colony of England.

Persons has stood the test of time and dates back to the early days of 1838 when the circuit riders were sent out to spread the gospel. Persons first minister, the Rev. Joshua Leigh, delivered his first sermon at Persons on a cold day in November 1838 to an eager an attentive crowd. He caught the eye of one young parishioner, Ms. Sally Harris Musgrave, who would become his wife. Many of the Musgrave family attended Persons and are buried at the church. 

The Rev. Leigh traveled several counties on horseback and into North Carolina and had 13 churches on his charge. He died at the age of 45 of bilious pleurisy and felt he had accomplished what God had called him for. His legacy lives on in the spirit of the founders of Methodism, brothers John and Charles Wesley, Thomas Coke and Frances Asbury.My ancestors were founding members of Persons UMC and donated much of the land that the church resides on. I feel honored to have my name on such a beautiful place where many have worshipped and served God from generations that date back to the early days.

The process has been quite challenging and very rewarding as I feel we are all ministers to God and if we live by the gospel it will indeed make the world a better place if we follow the guidelines of the Book of Discipline

Old Church has been shown to millions of viewers on a national and international level through the donation of Nat Turner's Bible to the National Museum of African American History and Culture (AAMHC) in Washington, D.C, which will also allow for the preservation of Persons history too. 

Turner, was an African-American preacher who led the slave revolt of 1831. He and another man were granted baptismal rights at Persons Millpond when other church's denied them this privilege. The Bible of Turner is now in the new AAMHC where it will be shared for generations to see. Part of preserving this piece of American history and the process in sharing the story has been tremendous (Read more of this story in the January 2017 edition of the Virginia Advocate magazine).  

 - Mark Person is a trustee and treasurer of Persons UMC in Southampton. 



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