It can be as hard to pinpoint the beginning of a church as it is to pinpoint the first streaks of dawn in the sky.
Miss Mattie B. Haden, in an article that was published in the Scottsville Sun in August, 1955, wrote that
“It is a known fact that the Cunningham Congregation is the oldest continuous Methodist congregation in Fluvanna County, though we have no known record or even legend of the organization of the first society or class – as the gatherings were first called – in the neighborhood; neither do we know the exact date of the erection of any of the buildings.”
In “Bennett’s Memorial Of Methodism” (1870), Rev. Bennett, quoting from Allen H. Bernard, says in the early part of 1806 a Camp Meeting was held in or near North Garden in Albemarle County. Several persons from Fluvanna attended and were converted. They brought the revival fire with them from the Camp Meeting, and in a single meeting held in the neighborhood of what is now Cunningham, many were converted and gathered into the church. Stith Mead was presiding Elder. From this revival, Cunningham Meeting House, said to have been built of logs a half mile or more from the location of the present church, was established. In referring to the meeting of the Virginia Conference held in Petersburg March 1824, Rev. Bennett speaks of ]ames Avis, who was on the Columbia Circuit (which included Fluvanna county). Rev. Avis’s text at Cunningham, 1824, is recorded in William Henry Massie’s “Diary of Texts,” the first locally written record of services at Cunningham.
The old Charge Register for Cunningham Circuit, found in the Fluvanna Clerk’s Office, lists Cunningham’s Church Members as of 1832. There is no report from any of the meeting houses in Fluvanna on the south side of the Rivanna River in the old Charge Register from 1835 to 1858, The Fluvanna Circuit was first mentioned in 1853. BH. Johnson was Presiding Elder, Z.E. Morrison, P.C. In 1837 Benjamin Haden Jones and wife Elizabeth deeded to Richard Noel, William Haden, Jr., Walker Timberlake, George Jones and Anthony Hughes, trustees in trust and their successors, a four acre plus nine rod parcel of land on which to erect a place of worship for the Methodist Episcopal Church.
At intervals since, both exterior and interior have been redecorated and new pews added. In 1955, a four room educational building was annexed to the old structure, which was brick veneered to blend in with the new structure. In 1955, during the pastorate of Rev. E.R. Collie, the Fluvanna Charge, consisting of seven churches, namely: Zion, Byrd Chapel, Salem, Palmyra, Cunningham, Wesley Chapel, and Seays Chapel, was divided into the North and South Fluvanna Charges. With the addition of New Bethel, each became a four-church charge. Cunningham became a part of the South Fluvanna Charge. George C. Watson, was the first pastor to serve the new charge and the first pastor to abide a full term in the new parsonage built in 1956 and located in Cunningham. The parsonage was built on land contributed by Herbert Greer. In the early 1960’s, the Sunday School rooms and vestibule were added and brick was put on the sanctuary. In the mid 1960’s, carpet was installed. On June 8, 1975, the second addition to the educational building was dedicated.
Since that time, a number of improvements have been made to the building and grounds. In 1981, air conditioning was installed. The church was first heated by two wood stoves and different members built the fires on Sunday morning. In the 1990’s, a picnic shelter with electricity was added. In 1996, memorial windows were installed, with a dedication service held on Homecoming Sunday, August 25, 1996. In 2000, the driveway and parking areas were blacktopped. Motion lights were installed. Two handicapped ramps were built, one to the sanctuary and one to the Sunday School rooms. A beautifully kept cemetery is just west of the church and has a trust fund for perpetual care. The first person to be buried in the cemetery was Mrs.Benjamin Haden (formerly, Louise Ann Massie), who died in 1882. In 2004, brick gate posts were built at the cemetery entrance and new gates were installed.
Previous members of Cunningham Church who have gone out to carry God’s message are: Rev. John L. Clarke, Rev. John Walker Parrish, Rev. William A. Tompkins, Rev. Oscar L. Haga, John Hall, William H. Napier, James Hughes, Frank E. Schumaker, Roger R. Browning and Janet Parrish Seay. Others have gone forth to other localities and assumed places of leadership in their respective churches. In 2008, Cunningham took the major step of becoming a station church.
God has blessed us richly as we stepped forward in faith. Today, the people of Cunningham celebrate 175 years in its current location. We give thanks to God for all that God has done in Cunningham and pray that we will continue to be faithful to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.