Churches are conceived in the hearts of people. They are organizations that undergird communities with ideals of love and beauty and that strive to bring their participants to spiritual maturity. For one hundred twenty-five years, Jennings Chapel has been an organization of God's flock--of those invited by God to be His people.
A backward look across the years revives some of the enthusiasm and elation experienced by our forbears as they felt the need to provide a building to house their congregation. Meetings had been held in a school building known as Crapster's Schoolhouse, located across from the present building and quite far back in the field,beyond the stream. Before that, groups had gathered in homes for worship, and no doubt, the earliest communicants had been served by itinerant ministers.
It has been suggested that Dr. Jennings, for whom the building is named, had probably preached to early communicants on an itinerant basis, though there is no concrete evidence to support the theory. Dr. Jennings' death came the same year as the chapel was built-1854. Ministers were appointed to Crapster’s Schoolhouse by the Conference to the Methodist congregation in the Florence area when Howard County was still a part of Anne Arundel County, and the Methodist group in this locality was a part of the Anne Arundel Circuit.
The earliest Conference appointment seems to have been made in 1829, just twenty-five years before Jennings opened. The appointee was Rev. William Bowden. During that quarter century, records reveal several appointments having been made to "Crapster’s School House" on the Anne Arundel Circuit. In 1840 Howard County separated from Anne Arundel. Appointments continued to be made to Crapster’s School House, but by 1842 it appeared on Howard Circuit.
On April 22, 1853, a group of land owners met to discuss the location of a building to house the congregation. No doubt, they also discussed other recent events, such as the inauguration or the country's fourteenth president, Franklin Pierce, and Mary1and's new governor, Thomas Watkins Ligon, the first governor elected for a four-year, rather than a three-year term. They, doubtless, aired their views on the free flow of California gold in this country and abroad and expressed opinions on the rise of sectionalism that had many people predicting the "War Between the States"--which became a fact ten years later. Another event that pin-pointed the building of Jennings on a time line was the railroad reaching from Baltimore to Wheeling. It had been in use from Baltimore to Frederick for two decades. The landowners readily decided on the location for the building, and the Meredith and Baxley families donated the land--one plot known as Fredericksburg and the other Small Piece". James Meredith and his brother, John Meredith, and John's wife, Margaret, deeded one parcel to the newly appointed trustees and James Baxley and his wife, Catherine, deeded the other portion. James Meredith occupied the residence known as Hobson's Choice, where the Col. Edwin Gramkow family now lives. The Baxleys lived at Cherry Grove, now owned by Arthur G. Nichols. The John Merediths lived in Frederick. No doubt they came from Frederick to approve and sign the deed. They may have come by horse and carriage, but more than likely, by train. In either case, it would have been an overnight trip. If by train, they would have been met at Woodbine. Few people today have any conception of road conditions then. Instead of pot holes, there were hog wallows, where the whole hog could make itself invisible.
Perhaps some of the planning and discussion previous to the deeding had taken place by letter--certainly not by telephone! And to complete and legalize the proceedings, the deed had to be recorded in Ellicott City. That was probably another two-day trip. Presumably, lunch would have been taken along for the travelers and suitable snacks for the horses--a few measures of corn and oats sandwiched between generous portions of clover hay. The deeds~ were duly recorded on November 25, 1853 by the Clerk of the Court, W. H. Worthington. Albert G. Warfield William R. Warfield Reuben Reed Jacob Streaker John H. Owings; The site was deeded to: Nicholas R. R. Warfield James Baxley Luther Welsh Joseph S. Snyder Rev. Nowlin, in a letter written to Gov. Edwin Warfield in 1909, states that the: building was called “Warfield Chapel” until John H. Owings, a trustee, had the name changed in honor of his step-father, Dr.Samuel Kennedy Jennings.
This change was disappointing to many members, but Dr. Jennings was a worthy recipient of the honor. Not only was he a medical doctor and a noted minister, but also a pro- fessional teacher. He was knowledgeable concerning church government and felt it wrong that Bishops, Elders and Ministers who rarely or never, visited local churches held the governing power completely. He was an early reformer in this cause. Since one of his special skills was the ability to write, he edited and published material that brought church matters so constantly and effectively before the Methodist congregations that by 1808 general dissatisfaction with the church government was brewing. The reform movement under Dr. Jennings grew in fervor until 1820. At a Baltimore Convention of Methodists, leaders who were working to preserve their power and authority, used unethical maneuvers to maintain the status quo. The controversy raged for the next eight years, with Dr. Jennings and his cohorts ever more active in their protest against non-representative church authority. Many meetings and frequent published articles kept the subject before the Methodist populace. The anti-reformers had by that time become actively belligerent even to the extent of expelling reform ministers from their pulpits. At a Baltimore Conference in 1827, twelve ministers and twenty-two laymen were expelled. The reformers tried and failed at reconcilia¬tion at a general conference the following year. All active reformers were subsequently expelled and in May, 1828, an enterprising group of reformers purchased the St. John's Church, on Liberty Street in Baltimore and established their own church. The reform group grew by leaps and bounds and near the end of that same year, 1828, at a convention held at the St. John's Church, twelve conferences from twelve states sent representatives. This representation in itself points up the popularity of and the dedica¬tion to the cause, especially considering the rigors of travel in that day. Dr. Jennings was one of the three leaders who drew up and submitted plans for the reorganization of the Associated Methodist Church. The preamble and the constitution for a Representative Methodist Church Government were entirely produced from his pen. And so the Associated Methodist Church evolved!
It was not until November 2, 1930 that, at another Convention at the St. John's Liberty Street Church in Baltimore, the Associated Methodist Church formally adopted the name Methodist Protestant Church. It should be noted at this point that the branches of the Methodist Church, after long and painful effort, were reunited in 1939--(with lay representation in government). Since Dr. Jennings' second wife was Hannah Hood Owings, his body was interred in the Owings Cemetery when he became a victim of paralysis on October 19, 1854. The Owings Cemetery is on the Alston Specht Farm on Jennings Chapel Road. There is no record of change in the original building of Jennings Chapel until 1917. Before that time, the chapel was entered by either of two doors with stone steps leading directly from the ground. Narrow aisles facing the doors lead to the chancel. There were long, brown, locally made benches in the center and shorter ones on each side. The small-paned windows were of the bluish-tinted glass so rare and so prized today. The balcony was entered from an outside door on the north side and used for slaves or emancipated negroes. The balcony was supported by a central pillar. Lamps in brackets were between the windows and on the balcony rail. A stove on either side strove valiantly to warm the winter worshipers. By 1917, more space was needed for the Sunday School which grew along with the Church. Services were held at a hall in Daisy while the large room adjoining the sanctuary and a basement were built. During the reconstruction a porch was added for protection from the weather and the side entrance was closed. Stained Glass windows were added to the chancel.
One of the highlights of Jennings' first century was the eightieth anniversary celebration in 1934. Mary Catherine Warfield,a descendant of the Owings family, read a history of the church and Rev. Edgar Sexsmith, great grandson of Hannah Hood Owings Jennings had the morning service. In the evening, the service was in charge of Rev. James Baxley, born and raised at Cherry Grove and grandson of the James and Catherine Baxley who deeded part of the land. Many interesting stories of the early days of Jennings were told by Rev. Baxley who served Jennings as minister from 1936-1946. His memories included hitching-posts for horses at the back and sides of the building; families arriving in ox-carts, and lantern lights collecting along foot-paths as people emerged from their homes, gradua11y coming together as worshipers cut across fields to Jennings. He led us in singing the old hymns that our ancestors loved--When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, The Lily-of-the-Valley, Peace Be Still, Let the Lower Lights Be Burning The Church in The Wildwood, and so on. He pictured the people singing these anthems as they walked and each group blending their voices with others until the churchyard vibrated with the melodies as each group gathered in. He often told us of revival meetings and prayer meetings held at the church and of all-day summer services and picnics. He, himself, held Fall Revivals during his ten years as pastor. Rev. Baxley died in 1947 and was buried in the family burial plot at Cherry Grove.
Beginning April 25, 1954, a week-long celebration was held at Jennings Chapel in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of the church. The final service on May 2, was in charge of the minister, Rev. Charles Michael and the speaker was the incumbent governor of Maryland, the Hon. Theodore R. McKeldin. Some evidence of the gradually changing status of Jennings can be gleaned from its circuit history. It has been noted that Jennings Chapel became a part of Howard Circuit that was separated from the Anne Arundel Circuit in 1842. In 1886 Howard Circuit Was divided into Howard and Lisbon Circuits with Jennings becoming a member of the Lisbon Circuit.
Later, Jennings was returned to Howard Circuit but the next division put Jennings on the Poplar Springs Circuit, with Poplar Springs, Ridgeville and Union Chapel Churches. In 1940,Ridgeville was dropped and Lisbon came on the circuit. Shortly after that time, Union Chapel was closed. In 1962, Lisbon withdrew from the circuit and since that time it has been composed of Poplar Springs and Jennings Chapel. It would be amiss to conclude a write-up of the church with no mention of the provision made for the housing of its ministers. Records indicate that early ministers occupied a Methodist Parsonage in Lisbon. The brick house directly opposite the store known today as Lee’s Market seems to have been the earliest Methodist Parsonage, although it is said to have been built originally as a Presbyterian Manse to serve the Presbyterian Church which stood just a few feet north of the Manse. The Methodists sold this building between 1905 and 1910 and built a parsonage across from the store in Poplar Springs. This property was sold in 1925 and was shortly thereafter destroyed by fire. At that time, the minister lived temporarily in the second house from Route 144 on the road leading to the Poplar Springs Church. The present parsonage was completed and Rev. Wooden moved into it in 1927. The land for the parsonage was donated to the Circuit by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Fluhart. Generally speaking, this treatise records some facts pertinent to Jennings Chapel's first hundred years.