1829-1900: Establishing the Vision

2014 is a significant year in the history of our congregation; later this fall, we will celebrate the 185th anniversary of the founding of our church.   Between now and September 15, our official “birthday,” we will be looking back each month to a particular period in our church’s history, beginning this month with our congregation’s organization and early days, from 1829 until 1900.

Our city traces its origins back to 1817, when groups of investors purchased land in this area from the Milledgeville, GA land office  to create new communities:  New Philadelphia (by Andrew Dexter), Alabama Town (by Gen. John Scott), and East Alabama (by George Clayton).  In December 1819, at the same time Alabama became a state, these three villages merged into a new town called Montgomery, which became the seat of the county government.  The unorganized Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians in the community raised money together to build Montgomery’s first house of worship, called the Union Church, completed in 1825 at the corner of Court and Church Streets.

On September 15, 1829, a new Methodist Society was organized in this Union Church by our ten founding members (nine of whom were women, and some of whose descendants are members of FUMC today).  In December 1830, the Baptists and Presbyterians sold their interest in the Union Church building to the Methodists, and the congregation became known as the Montgomery Station (later Court Street Methodist).  When the Alabama Conference was organized two years later, our church had grown to a membership of 237 (110 white and 127 black).  In 1835, the old Union Church building was moved to the back of the lot to be used as a parsonage, and a new, larger building was constructed on the original site.

In 1845, as a result of tension between northern and southern conferences over the issue of slavery, the Methodist church as a whole split into the Methodist Episcopal Church (in the North) and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  At the first annual conference of the southern church in 1846, the Court Street congregation reported 537 members (212 white and 325 black).  In 1852, the small 1835 building was removed and given to the black members, who relocated it to the present site of the Old Ship A.M.E. Zion church on Holcombe Street.  Until this time, our black membership, mostly slaves, far outnumbered the white membership, and the races worshipped in the same building, the black members generally seated in the balcony.  After the removal of 1835 building, construction began on a larger brick edifice of more elegant design, completed in 1855.

The hardships and privations during the Civil War period (1861-1865) certainly affected the Court Street church members, although the city managed to avoid serious destructions by successful negotiations with Wilson’s Raiders as they camped on the outskirts of town.  After the War, the presence of northern troops among our congregation was difficult for many to bear.  Ellen (Blue) Jones recorded her reaction in May 1865, after attending services with her father, Neil Blue:  “The house was so full of ‘blue coats’ that I almost started back.  The very atmosphere seemed to be so heavy and oppressive that I could not breathe freely.”

The General Conference of 1866 approved the inclusion of lay delegates for the first time, and that of 1870 divided the Alabama Conference into the northern and southern conferences that exist today.  The remodeling of the 1855 church building in the 1870’s completely changed the appearance of the church, but paying for the renovations and repairs was a huge problem at the time of the economic “Panic of 1873,” widespread crop failures, and the generally difficult conditions during Reconstruction.  Creative fund-raising efforts (later to be a characteristic of our congregation during the Great Depression) helped to pay some of the debt, but the reduction of the minister’s and sexton’s salaries (and sometimes failing to pay them at all) show how difficult the church’s economic struggle was after the War.

The final years of the nineteenth century saw an improvement in the church’s financial situation and in the congregation’s spiritual growth.  The congregation contributed regularly to the “Poor Fund” to assist individuals or families in financial straits (a budget item second only to the pastor’s salary).  Our youth enthusiastically joined and supported the Epworth League beginning in the 1890’s.  The women of our church joined the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society (1878) and the Home Missionary Society (1887), which later merged into the Women’s Missionary Society.

As the city of Montgomery grew in size and prosperity, Court Street church played an important role in the establishment of several new Methodist congregations.  Plans for a Methodist congregation on Dexter Avenue commenced in 1887, the present site was purchased in 1890, and construction of the present sanctuary began in 1892.  In 1897, two Sunday schools on Goode and McDonough Streets merged into a new Methodist congregation known as Hull Street Church (moved to Perry Street in 1900 and later re-named St. Mark).  Around the same time, Pastor Henry Dannelly Moore of Court Street was instrumental in organizing the Bethel/Fifth Avenue Church, which later became Burge Memorial.

From the 1820’s until the end of the 19th century, the members of Court Street Methodist Church faced and overcame many obstacles toward becoming a thriving and caring community of believers, sharing (then as now) the transforming love of Christ through worship, witness, and service.

1900 – September 18, 1931: Expanding Our Vision

With a stable place to worship and no war looming on the horizon, our ancestors in faith began to address local and national social concerns at the turn of the 20th century. As our membership grew from 833 to 1091 in the first decade of the new century, our outreach expanded to children, working mothers, and mission needs. Local programs for our members and the community were expanded.
With no government programs to help the needy, our church placed a high priority on helping the poor. Money for the “Poor Fund” under the direction of the Board of Stewards (now the Administrative Board), was budgeted each year for this fund, second in amount only to the pastor’s salary. For many years the Sunday morning collections also went into the “Poor Fund.”
In Alabama at the turn of the century, child labor in the textile industry was widespread. Up to one-fourth of the employees in this industry were under the age of 16 and typically worked 12-hour days or longer. The 1906 session of the Alabama Conference sent a petition to the Alabama Legislature asking for an increase in the minimum age limit for child workers. The following year the Legislature passed one of the most effective child labor reform laws in the nation. Since that time, our concern for children has also been reflected in our support of the United Methodist Children’s Home, founded in 1890. FUMC is one of the largest lifetime supporters of this institution.
One of the first major projects of the Women’s Missionary Society (now known as the United Methodist Women) was to reach out to working mothers and provide a “day nursery.” In 1904 they opened the North Montgomery Settlement House, where programs in health, homemaking, sewing, education, and religious education were also offered. Our UMW, the Tower Class, and the church itself have maintained a remarkable level of support for the House (now called Nellie Burge Community Center). The UMW has supported Nellie Burge financially since 1904, and is traditionally represented on the Board of Directors. We also have a clergy representative on the Board.
Court Street members engaged in world and national events as well, through outreach to Camp Sheridan, an army training camp for the 167th Infantry Regiment from Alabama, 37th Division from Ohio, and other troops. We provided junior ministerial support, funds to support the ministry, and space (known as the Soldiers’ Club Room) in the church basement. Court Street Church provided support and meeting space for the Alabama Conference of Christians and Jews, a national organization lobbying President Wilson to engage with European nations to eliminate further persecution of Jews.
Nationally, the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote was passed in 1920. The Methodist General Conference introduced similar legislation, granting women the right to be delegates, by 1918. Alabama approved this legislation and elected five women (out of 88 delegates) to the next Alabama Conference.
Sunday School classes were strong during the last years at Court Street Church. The Senior Philathea Class averaged 136 in attendance in 1922-1923, and the men’s Wesley Bible Class typically had 100 in attendance for years. We hired our first Director of Religious Education, who emphasized the education of children and youth, but lack of consistent funds for his salary hastened his departure. Our congregation also supported institutions of higher education such as Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Huntingdon College, and Randolph-Macon College during this time.
We have worshipped at this Cloverdale site for over 80 years. Now imagine being told by numerous experts that problems like flooded basements, leaky roofs, and aging furnaces would cost over $60 million to repair and that the strong recommendation was against these repairs. Imagine having to move “out east,” demolish our current sanctuary and other buildings, attend church at AUM, and build a new sanctuary!
This was precisely the dilemma facing the Court Street members in the late 1920s. They loved their beautiful campus, where they had worshipped since 1829, but urgent and expensive repairs continued to mount from about 1925 on. Over the next few years, the dilemma of whether to “repair, rebuild onsite, or relocate” would play out with much feeling and study. Compelling reasons existed for each option. The problems with the downtown site were that repair or remodeling costs for the 1855 building were astronomical; street car re-routing would increase noise, decrease property value, and increase parking problems; and more land was needed for expansion.
Court Street members desiring to stay downtown cited the need to preserve such a historic building and the need to serve people living downtown. To complicate the matter, a $10,000 gift (worth over $150,000 today) was made toward repairs, if the church did not move. However, an “outstanding residential church” in the Cloverdale section would be “convenient and accessible for [the] faculty and student body” of Huntingdon College.
For three years various committees, architects, and boards studied and advised on the dilemma. Finally, in February 1930, with strong feelings and concerns for the welfare of the church, the issue was put to a vote: 1) build a new church and Sunday School on the present lot; 2) repair the church and Sunday School on the present lot; or 3) sell the property and move the church to Cloverdale. The Methodist Discipline required three official bodies, the Board of Stewards, a called special Church Conference, and a special Quarterly Conference, to approve the decision in order to make it binding. These bodies narrowly approved the move to Cloverdale, and the Court Street property was put up for sale.
After a year a buyer was found, and the U.S. Government purchased the property for $113,720 ($1.7 million in 2014 dollars). When the government check was received on March 27, 1931, the Trustees nervously put the money in the bank. Suddenly, the congregation was without a property or a meeting place, and all assets were in a bank account. The 1931 Board of Trustees Report reflected the awesome responsibility of this act: “Your Board feels deeply conscious of the responsibility of handling the money above referred to, which constitutes the entire assets of the church and is all that is left of this historic building…”
The last service at Court Street Church, held on April 26, 1931, was attended by many dignitaries. The grand old building succumbed to the demolition squad on September 18, 1931, only three days after the 102nd anniversary of the founding of the church.
We are grateful for the faith and trust in God and for the courage shown by the Court Street Methodist Church congregation in making these decisions during the collapse of the stock market and the Great Depression.

The 1940’s: World War II and Completion of the Sanctuary

For First Methodist Church the decade of the 1940’s was both a time of war and a period of membership and financial growth. It was during this decade that construction of the glorious “Cathedral in the Pines” was finally completed. World War II brought many changes to the church as members went off to war at the same time that weekly services were filled with visiting servicemen. The wartime economic boom ended the Great Depression, and as a result the financial condition of the church improved dramatically.

Like the rest of America, Montgomery responded to the war by buying war bonds, using ration books, and worrying about its young men in uniform. At least 174 members of this Church served their country during the war. Patriotic support for the war was shown by a change in the content of worship. On March 3, 1943, the American and Christian flags were dedicated for placement in the Sanctuary. The fourth stanza of America became a second sung response immediately after the Doxology in the dedication of the morning offering. (This practice was discontinued after the war, but was reinstated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.) The women of the Church also made their contribution to the war effort by devoting many hours of work for the Red Cross and at the Union Station canteen for troops in transit.

Large numbers of servicemen attended First Methodist Church, especially the Sunday morning services. Upon request, the pastor wrote a letter to the parents of these visitors, telling them of their sons’ attendance. Many letters of appreciation were received from grateful mothers and fathers. Members of the congregation also invited servicemen to their homes for lunch and dinner. Military personnel and members of the Young People’s Department of the Sunday School were invited to Friday night social functions at the Church. Young British officers, in flight training at Maxwell and Gunter Fields, were especially popular at these events.

The Church initiated an outreach program to the many new wartime residents of Montgomery. Signs that designated the Church as the “Cathedral in the Pines” with arrows to indicate direction were placed at important street intersections. Advertisements in local newspapers announced the subject and time of the Sunday sermon. Weekly programs were broadcast over WSFA-Radio (an affiliation which continues today with WSFA-TV). To improve communications within the Church family, on September 11, 1942, the first issue of the Tower Chimes was published.

The war presented many obstacles to the completion of the sanctuary, which had been under construction since 1935. The delivery of building materials, furnishings, and fixtures was delayed by a lack of manpower, government contracts having priority, rationing, and labor strikes. A short time before the beginning of the war, a significant step was taken toward final construction when all stained glass windows were installed in the sanctuary. These included the two most important windows in location and beauty: the rose window above the altar and the front window over the main entrance. These windows were dedicated at the Sunday morning service on April 20, 1941, and an Open House for the public was held that afternoon.

Even though most permanent furnishings were lacking, the congregation placed a special emphasis on acquiring an organ. A $17,000 instrument was purchased from the Reuter Organ Company of Kansas. Unfortunately, wartime restrictions prevented it from being shipped. By writing their Congressman, members of the congregation were successful in having the restrictions lifted. The organ arrived and was used for the first time on Sunday, October 11, 1942. In July 1943, the remaining debt on the organ was paid when a special offering was taken for that purpose. During the war the furniture and carvings for the chancel and nave were completed. Most of these were given as memorials, including the altar, pulpit, choir rails, chancel rail, baptismal font, and lectern. In January 1943, pews of two-inch thick cathedral oak replaced the homemade benches used since 1938. Most of the pews were donated at a cost of $75 dollars each.

By 1944 the financial condition of the Church had improved so much that advanced payments on the mortgage began to be made. In the spring of 1947, a major campaign was launched to pay the remaining indebtedness of the mortgage. The success of this effort led to the dedication of the Church on Sunday, November 9, 1947. Early in the Service of Dedication, the mortgage was burned as a visible symbol to the congregation that the debt incurred in building the Church had been paid.

A major focus of the Church in the postwar years was providing assistance to the victims of the war. Aid was sent to Europe through the United Church World Service. Help was also provided to Methodist pastors throughout Europe. During a nineteen-month period from 1947 to 1949, 345 CARE packages and 313 boxes of clothing were shipped to Europe. The Church’s involvement in providing relief to war-torn countries led to a general increase in support for missions. The Women’s Society of Christian Service was particularly active in providing assistance to missionaries. Through its efforts, support for missions was added to the annual Church budget.

The ministers serving during this decade were Dr. Oscar E. Rice, Dr. Gaston Foote, Dr. Guy C. McGowan, and Dr. Charles S. Forester. By the end of the 1940’s, First Methodist Church, with its 2300 members, its solid financial position, and its beautiful edifice, was poised to grow in membership, to continue construction as needed, and more importantly, to share the transforming love of Christ through worship, witness, and service.

The 1950s: Expansion amid Social Upheaval

Although optimism following the conclusion of WWII continued through the end of the 1940s, another war, on the Korean Peninsula, would have an impact on Church building projects. First Methodist saw a need in the early 1950s to move forward with a plan for a multi-purpose annex. This involved a campaign that started in January 1951 to raise funds and obtain loans for the erection of Fellowship Hall. In April 1951 the Tower Chimes showed architectural sketches of the proposed building by Pearson, Tittle, and Narrows, and the church board approved their plans. The groundbreaking for the first phase of Fellowship Hall occurred, despite the shortage of construction materials such as steel, because of U.S. involvement in the Korean War. In fact, the Department of Commerce wrote in November 1951 that authorization of an application request from the Church was “…denied by reason of the fact that quantities of controlled materials available for non-defense construction are so limited that only non-deferrable projects of the highest urgency can be authorized for construction at this time.” Nevertheless, by December 1952 the project was completed with wood trusses substituting for steel. An array of activities for the congregation took place during the official Opening Week in January 1953. It was not until February 1959 that an expansion of Fellowship Hall was planned, which would complete the original design.

Activities for senior congregants were organized in October of 1951; the XYZ Group (Xtra Years of Zest) continues today under the name Fifty & Forward. Another project begun in the early 1950s was related to the chancel carvings. This moved forward with the engagement of an ecclesiastical designer to draw plans for additional art objects. The polychromatic carvings in the chancel were begun in 1954 under the leadership of the Memorials Committee, and the central panel with the Christ figure and four disciples was presented in 1957.

While the church was involved in improvements, it still saw the need for helping those overseas. During WWII the church had collected and shipped clothing to those in need in Austria. The Wesley Fellowship Class sponsored a displaced family, and in the spring of 1951 this family arrived in Montgomery. A home was found for them near Montgomery Cotton Mills, where the husband found work as an electrical mechanic.

The Church’s sense of mission in other parts of the world motivated the congregation to support overseas missions. Fannie Lee Howard was the first overseas missionary from the Church, in Brazil, and others served in Austria, Belgium, Japan, and the Philippines. Joe Ed Hastings served as a missionary in India, and Dr. Raleigh H. Pickard, a member of the Alabama-West Florida Conference who had close relatives in the Church here, received funds for medical supplies (principally vaccines for children) for his missionary work in India. Furthermore, our church donated funds for a well at the hospital where Pickard served. They were so appreciative for the contributions from the First Methodist Church that the six-acre compound around the well was named Cloverdale.

While the need for helping others overseas was important, the Church also realized that work also needed to be done locally. First Methodist Church helped establish other churches in growing Montgomery neighborhoods. To aid this expansion, Ten Dollar Clubs were formed throughout the conference. In 1956, 170 members of FMC each promised to pay $10 toward buying a site or erecting the initial building for a nucleus group, and were willing to contribute an additional $10 up to three times a year. In the 1950s, aid was extended to Dalraida, Normandale, Woodley (Whitfield), and St. James churches. The Church also certified laity so small congregations without pastors could continue to hold services.
First Methodist’s Woman’s Society of Christian Service continued to support a center in Montgomery for needy people. Formerly known as North Montgomery Settlement House or the Montgomery Methodist Community Center, it moved in 1954 and received its current name: Nellie Burge Community Center.

Modern technology advanced the Church’s outreach when weekly broadcasts over WSFA-Radio began in the 1940s. With the popularity of television during the 1950s, the Church was the first in Montgomery to have its Sunday service aired on WSFA-TV, beginning on March 18, 1956. Although discontinued for a short time, it started up again later and continues today. The pastor introduced daily recorded prayers which could be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, simply by calling the Dial-a-Prayer phone number.

In 1954 the International Council of Religious Education selected First Methodist Church, out of all the churches in the US, to make film and slides for its educational program and work with children, including “Christmas Around the World,” which was used by the forty participating denominations in the Council.

One of the highlights in 1954 was the installation of air conditioning, a much-needed and appreciated improvement to the sanctuary. Then, in 1955 a loudspeaker system was installed that included earphones located in three pews near the pulpit.

The bombing of Martin Luther King’s parsonage on January 30, 1956 and the later bombing of several churches prompted a number of church members to ask what could be done to lessen the tension. The First Methodist Church minister noted that problems and differences never can be solved through anything other than the reasoning process, and not through emotion.

A particularly sensitive issue arose when a writer in one Sunday school quarterly supported the Civil Rights movement’s struggle for equality as a Christian obligation. Some members of adult Sunday school classes advocated discontinuance of all Methodist Sunday school literature. After church-wide hearings, a committee met and decided that the Methodist literature should be retained, along with selections from other board-offered options. The executive officer of the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce asked all ministers to urge their religious and civic organizations to treat all dark-skinned international officers at Maxwell Air Force Base with respect.

In 1954 the Alabama and North Alabama Conferences authorized all Race Relations Funds be given to predominantly black Miles College in Birmingham. These contributions continued throughout this period of racial unrest.

Dr. Charles S. Forester served for ten years before leaving in 1958 to serve in Panama City, FL. Until that time he was the longest serving minister at the Church. Among his many accomplishments for the growing congregation, Dr. Forester added a full-time business manager, a director of Christian education, and a full-time associate pastor. Rotations on the Official Board (now known as Administrative Board and Board of Trustees) began in 1954, and long-range planning for the church first took place in 1958. Dr. Forester was succeded by Dr. Joel D. McDavid (1958-1966)

The 1960’s

The church started the decade on a sound footing and maintained a good financial position throughout the 1960s, thus making it possible for expansion and improvements to the infrastructure. The addition of Fellowship Hall in 1960 added the business office, church nurseries, adult classes, and youth division of the church. Air conditioning was installed in the Education Building in 1960; in 1965 the Tower Chimes reported completion of new lighting and wiring throughout the building.
Another enhancement occurred in April of 1961 with the purchase of seat cushions for the church pews. More improvements came with the acquisition of parking areas (one in late 1963 and another in early 1964).
When the figures in back of the choir were added, some objected that the figures were too prominent, lacked coordination with the central panel, and did not display traditional identifying symbols of each disciple (for example, the Keys of Peter and the Cup of John). In addition to the four disciples with Jesus in the center panel were four disciples in the south panel, and the symbol of the Worldwide Church, and four disciples in the north panel, and the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The completed chancel carvings were dedicated on January 17, 1965.
For a number of years the Church had needed a larger organ to replace the one installed during WWII. Through a memorial of $75,000 a new organ was acquired, and necessary architectural changes were made for its installation. It was first used in May of 1969, and officially dedicated four months later.
By 1961 the music ministry had over 250 people, aged seven years or older, serving in one of eight church choirs. Plans began in the late 1950s for English handbells to become part of the music ministry. In May 1960 the pastor reported to the Quarterly Conference the addition of the Handbell Choir, with bells cast by Whitechapel Foundry, which also cast the original Liberty Bell as well as Big Ben of Westminster. Beginning in June 1964 the organ chimes were played from the tower as the postlude to Sunday services.
In 1964 a program was implemented to visit inactive members to keep them connected and to review various church activities they might find of interest. Community service continued to be important to the Church. The Women’s Society of Christian Service was active in helping needy individuals, as well as responding financially to unusual national and international emergencies. Church members also were often involved in financial drives to benefit various community needs.
While not an actual part of the Methodist youth structure, the Church continued to sponsor Boy Scouts and host Girl Scout troops, who met in the basement of Fellowship Hall. The Church also provided space for meetings of the Mental Health Association, as well as for Red Cross blood donation drives. A “coffee house” was set up in a room of the Fellowship Building for younger people of the Church to meet and socialize in a wholesome environment. In the summer and fall of 1968 adult movies in town were being shown without age restrictions. Church officials expressed their concern to the City Commission, the District Attorney, the Ministerial Association, and all theater managers, who agreed to restrict viewing to adults.
Today’s McInnis School was established at First Methodist Church by Dr. and Mrs. Carlisle Miller, whose son Johnny also inspired today’s “Joy for Johnny” ministry. The school met in two rooms in the church basement five days a week.
On the international scene, as worldwide missions grew in the 1960s, First Methodist supported several missionaries: Dr. Raleigh Pickard in India (who built an eye hospital), Rev. William Pickard in the Philippines (whose widow Mary Ann is now FUMC’s Archivist), Carl Stewart in Cuba, George Megill in Brazil, and others in Africa and Korea. In fact, the generosity for the various mission projects ranked the Church among the top 15 churches in all Methodism in giving to others. There were Relief Projects for Africa and Asia, as well as Sunday night programs by lay experts on political and social problems in emerging African and Asian nations and the effect of such on the role of the church.
The problem relating to racial issues in Methodist Church School literature that began in 1956 arose once again in 1965 and was referred to the Commission on Education, whose Chairman saw no reason for changing the literature at the time. Tension among members grew again in 1967, and a special committee was appointed to study the problem. In February of 1968 the Editor of Methodist Church Publications came to the Church and met with the committee. Understanding Southern sensitivities, he suggested church school teachers make selections to meet their needs from among the many sources available. This suggestion was eventually adopted by a 45 to 15 vote.
In the 1963 budget, television broadcasting of church services was approved, but financing was inadequate. A donation from the Nolen Huddleston estate providing additional funding for these broadcasts, along with a survey showing these broadcasts were seen in over 6,000 homes, provided the impetus for a successful fund drive to keep these broadcasts one of the church’s most effective ministries.
While the televised Sunday service was popular, it also made the Church a target for civil rights activists who were increasingly zealous in Montgomery. A “Policy Committee” was created in 1960 after learning that 15 churches would be visited by various civil rights groups. It eventually recommended that “all who come in an orderly manner be admitted for worship.” For several Sundays these visitors came without incident. There were some objections to how this issue was handled by the Policy Committee, and a few members left the church to join newly-organized church dissenting from the Methodist Church’s policy.
The City of Montgomery established a “committee of 45” (45 white and 45 black members) in late 1963 to resolve racial problems. The minister and six other church members were part of this group. Other issues they dealt with included the state’s education issues, and alcoholism.
In the summer of 1964 the National Council of Churches was widely criticized because of a few of its social policies and pronouncements. This criticism pertained to its participation in Mississippi’s voter demonstrations. In September 1964 First Methodist’s Official Board voted to discontinue financial support to the National Council of Churches, although the church did continue to forward any individual donations to them.
A significant name change long in the making occurred during this decade. For several years the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church had been exploring uniting their two denominations. They had a common background during the early development of Methodism in America, separated mainly by the use of German by the United Brethren. The merger of the two groups was approved and the constitution adopted in 1966. Since the Uniting General Conference in Dallas in April 1969, our congregation has been known as First United Methodist Church of Montgomery.
Dr. Joel D. McDavid led First Methodist effectively from 1958 until 1966, during a very difficult period in our history. He was elected a bishop in July of 1972, appointed to the Florida area for eight years and then to the Atlanta area for four years. Dr. Wilbur Walton (1966-1970) served as a worthy successor to Dr. McDavid as our senior minister.

The 1970’s

When Dr. Paul Andrews Duffey became senior minister of First United Methodist Church (FUMC) in June of 1970, he faced the challenge of overseeing the transition to the new organizational structure that had resulted from the merger with the Evangelical United Brethren two years prior. Existing Work Areas and Commissions now functioned under the newly established Council on Ministries, with opportunities to interrelate in new ways. Dr. Duffey realized the importance of instilling these structures with passion and purpose for meeting the needs of individuals, and the accomplishments of FUMC’s ministries during his pastorate speak to the success of his vision, continued under his successor Dr. Thomas Lane Butts.
The Council on Ministries lost no time in determining the most effective ways to put the new structure to work. By 1975 fully-staffed commissions were realized in every Work Area, and by the end of the 1975-76 year a procedure was in place for a coordinated budget for all areas represented by the Council on Ministries.
As the new structure fell into place, FUMC members were not idle. Long before the new United Methodist Church established official Age Level Coordinators and Councils in 1978, FUMC involved members of every age. The Sunday Church School continued to serve all ages. Classes reaching the fifty-year mark in the ‘70s included the Aldersgate, Fidelis, and Wesley Bible classes. The Tower and Wesley Fellowship classes had been active for twenty-five years or more. Two new young adult classes, the Give and Take and Charles Forester classes, were organized during the decade.
Ministry to senior citizens was deemed so important that a task force was formed to review the subject in 1974. In 1970 the XYZ Club and the Senior Adult Fellowship joined to become the XYZ Fellowship. For several years a special luncheon for “older Americans” was held during the annual Family Life Week. As early as 1973 FUMC was supporting the Montgomery Area Council on Aging (MACOA) and later began partnering with MACOA by providing church vans and drivers to transport recipients to St. Peter’s Catholic Church for hot meals.
Children and families benefited from events including annual Vacation Church School, laboratory schools for children’s teachers, Education Jubilees in 1975 and ’76, family picnics, Christmas family dinners, and, beginning in 1977, the popular annual Christmas in November celebration. In 1976 a children’s resource room, later the Children’s Library, was added. In 1975 a significant new family ministry, the Mother’s Morning Out program, instigated by Louise Duffey’s United Methodist Women’s Circle, was begun.
In addition to its own programming, FUMC continued to support scouting. In 1974 the first Boy Scout Sunday was held. Miss Grace Tanner, then FUMC’s Director of Christian Education, arranged for the hosting of two Girl Scout troops for the first time and created the “God and Community Award.” At the time, FUMC was the only site in the city hosting all grade levels in scouting.
The ‘70s was an extremely active decade for the church’s youth. Rev. James Bell, youth minister from 1970 to 1974, felt that youth were real members, not merely members in training, and should take active responsibility in all areas of church life. New activities were monthly youth Sundays, Wednesday night activities and speakers, “Youth Rap Suppers,” and weekly prayer breakfasts and coffee houses. Other activities included basketball and softball teams, a weekly youth paper, a regular “Youth Speaks” column in the “Tower Chimes,” a drama team, the special “Sunshine” choir group, cookouts, and annual camps and retreats. Mission projects included raising funds for Nellie Burge, sponsoring a boy at Brantwood Children’s Home, forming a clown troop to visit hospitals and nursing homes, and a powerful week at Noah’s Ark mission project in Panama City Beach, Florida in 1978. Youth were among FUMC members who travelled to Costa Rica on mission. The youth Chancel Choir sang weekly at the 8:30 Sunday service and toured with special productions, such as 1974’s “Celebrate Life,” dedicated to the memory of Claire Thacker Wells, daughter of music minister Jack Thacker. The youth held creative fundraisers to support their trips and projects, including bake sales, car washes, and “Rent-a-Youth,” in which youth hired themselves out for odd jobs. In 1979 at least 129 youth, or 93% of those on roll, were active in church programs.
Worship remained central to church life at FUMC. New worship services introduced during the ‘70s were a Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve, Tenebrae and Maundy Thursday services, and, in 1979, a Christmas Eve candle light service. The attendance folders first appeared in the pew racks in 1976 and provided a much-improved means of tracking worship attendance. In 1977 the monthly communion service was moved from the chapel to the sanctuary to allow for greater attendance. In addition to special presentations by the Chancel and Chapel Choirs, the popular Cathedral Music series featuring guest performers continued. In 1976 a memorial fund was approved to purchase a set of five-octave English handbells to replace the three-octave set. In 1977 sixty-one Hallmark Bells and nine carrying cases were added. When Jack Thacker retired in May 1976, John Dressler, who would be instrumental in the organization of the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, succeeded him as music minister.
Beginning in 1975 at the recommendation of the Work Area on Social Concerns, six Sundays were designated to emphasize social concerns, among them Labor Sunday, World Order Sunday, Drug and Alcohol Abuse Sunday, and Human Relations Sunday. The Work Area on Social Concerns also worked closely with the Work Area on Missions as FUMC remained a strong supporter of local, national, and international missions. In 1970 FUMC was the largest contributor in the Alabama-West Florida Conference to World Service and Conference Benevolences and to Advance Mission Specials. Locally, FUMC continued to support MACOA, the Mental Health Association, and the Nellie Burge Community Center and began to support Montgomery City Jail Ministry and Faith Rescue Mission and Rehabilitative Farm. FUMC continued to support foreign missionaries in India, Brazil, and Japan, and added support for missionaries in Nigeria and Mexico. Other mission projects included raising funds for World Hunger and sending funds, supplies, and workers to UMCOR for regional and international disaster relief.
In 1972 a crowd of 300 celebrated the Women’s Society of Christian Service’s transition into the United Methodist Women. Extremely active in local missions and in raising funds for foreign missions, in the 1975-76 year alone, its benevolent contributions totaled $6,500. Its members began a ministry to inmates at Julia Tutwiler prison and founded the Learning Center at Nellie Burge, which provided adult education and training in job skills such as sewing.
New in the ‘70s were the Work Area on Ecumenical Affairs, which partnered with local Methodist and Catholic churches in several events, and the Public Information Committee, which oversaw public relations including news ads, church signage, and radio programming. FUMC received national recognition in 1978 when Dr. Butts was invited to preach on the Protestant Hour on CBS radio.
Finances during the 1970s were a study in opposites. The year 1972 was termed the most outstanding financial year in the history of the church with total receipts at $334,000. Although pledges continued to exceed budgets, in the late ‘70s actual giving fell behind pledging. A main cause of continued financial concerns was the constant need for maintenance and upgrades to facilities. In 1973 two lots were purchased on the southeast side of the property, where the south parking lot now stands, but cost prohibited their immediate conversion for parking, so parking remained a concern. In 1975 the choir room was expanded by eliminating a wall between two rooms. In 1976 main maintenance concerns were weather-proofing buildings, inside renovations, sanctuary lights, grounds, parking areas, a sound system for the sanctuary, and recreation facilities. By 1977 roof repair, waterproofing and repainting stone walls, painting and repair of inside doors, and parking lot construction were under way. Also in 1977, the Youth Council presented a check to the Administrative Board for the purchase of playground equipment.
The 1970s included opportunities to recognize some of FUMC’s own. At the Christmas Family Dinner in 1976 Calvin Bradford was honored with a “This is Your Life” program and a plaque for twenty-five years of service as sexton. In 1979 the Wesley Bible Class moved to honor retired Rev. Walter O’ Neal Phillips for his years of faithful service visiting members of the class in hospitals and serving as greeter at the North Entrance to the Fellowship Building. On March 21 this entrance was officially designated the Phillips Door and a plaque was affixed there in his honor.
The 1970s culminated with the sesquicentennial celebration in 1979, after years of planning. In 1976 Dr. Duffey had recommended a committee be formed to “research every possible source” and “to make [our history] available to our congregation,” chaired by Mrs. Lessie Mae Hall Stone. The celebration itself was a monumental affair, extending throughout 1979. The opening celebration service on January 17 announced a Year of Jubilee. Former ministers were invited as visiting preachers throughout the year. On June 30, 500 people attended an authentic old style camp meeting, complete with family games, singing to accordion accompaniment, a brush arbor supplied by the Seekers Class, and a circuit rider preacher (portrayed by Dr. Andrew Turnipseed) and his groom (W.S. Brewbaker). The drama The Year of Jubilee by Martha Frazer Rankin depicted the history of Methodism and of First Methodist. John Dressler’s hymn of the same name was sung throughout the year. Special publications produced for the occasion included Rev. Al Norris’s color brochure featuring a brief history and the year’s programming and Mr. Ed Haslam’s photographic history, A Year of Jubilee – 1829-1979 – A Photographic Remembrance of 150 Years. The detailed church history, however, was not ready for publication by 1979, to the great disappointment of Mrs. Stone, who had worked for years meticulously researching each detail, often under uncomfortable conditions, to provide an accurate and exhaustive church history. Although severe illness forced her to stop work on the project before its completion, her selfless contribution to the heritage of this congregation would not prove fruitless.

The 1980’s at First Methodist Church

First United Methodist Church began the 1980s by building on the momentum of the sesquicentennial celebration.  A 1980 concert and picnic in the park featuring the U.S. Air Force Band turned into “Bishop Duffey Day” with 600 people turning out to celebrate his election.  Wednesday morning services, needlepoint kneelers, and new robes for youth and children began enhancing worship in 1980. A symbol of the circuit rider printed on the “SundayGram” throughout ’81 and ’82 successfully encouraged Biblical stewardship.  Families enjoyed Vacation Church School, Family Western Night with square-dancing, Halloween Festivals, Fall Rallies at Blue Lake, the annual Christmas in November, and a multi-generational Christmas Music Festival.  Annual joint Thanksgiving Eve Services with Temple Beth Or continued.  Special performances included the Pulpit Players’ production of A Child is Born, the youth’s presentation of GODSPELL, and the children’s presentation of A Blessing Comes Down.  The Work Area on Social Concerns began a focus on dying with dignity, and in 1980 Hospice of Montgomery received space at FUMC to operate full-time.  The Work Area pushed for a full-time staff position to establish the Ministry and Family Life Counseling Program, and in 1980 received funding to create a part-time position. Scout troops hosted by FUMC continued to flourish. Scouts were hosted temporarily at a church property on Park Avenue, designated the Mac Smith Scout Center after Boy Scout Troop 15’s leader of seventeen years.

Then in December 1982 Associate Minister Rev. Alfred Norris surrendered his credentials and was relieved of his appointment.  Dr. Thomas Lane Butts was charged in relation to this event and in April of ’83 was found guilty by the Alabama-West Florida Conference Court of interfering with the ministry of another pastor and was relieved of his appointment as Senior Minister of FUMC.  In October the United Methodist Jurisdictional Court of Appeals reversed the decision, and Dr. Butts was reinstated and appointed to another church.  These events could have crippled FUMC, but members continued to hold fast to the faith.  Experienced, godly leaders (Bishop Carl J. Sanders, who served as interim minister from April until November of 1983, and Dr. Karl K. Stegall, who became senior minister in November of 1983) helped turn the remainder of the ’80s into some of the most productive years in church history.

Throughout 1984 special events marked the Bicentennial of American Methodism.  A New Year’s Watch Night featuring Wesley’s Covenant Service opened the year.  Former ministers returned to preach, and 1,000 tulips were planted in honor of Dr. John Frazer, senior minister during the church’s decision to relocate to Cloverdale.  A play by the Pulpit Players and display cases of Methodist memorabilia further marked the occasion.

Discipleship for all ages flourished, as seen in the phenomenal growth of the Sunday School.  In 1986 plans suggested adding two new adult Sunday school classes each year to keep up with the growth.  In 1987 there were fourteen adult, six youth, and eleven children’s Sunday School classes.  A Sunday School Explosion campaign in 1988 aimed for an attendance of 800 people; one week over 900 attended!  By 1989 five new adult classes had been added, and attendance reached 965 people.

Additional discipleship opportunities included Dr. Stegall’s weekly morning Bible studies and annual Bible Conferences, both begun in ’87. Fellowship Dinner Clubs were a hit with young adults, and older adults travelled with the new Wesley Wanderers group.  The Adult Fellowship sponsored church-wide luncheons featuring guests such as storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham. Children participated in children’s church, a mission fair, and Vacation Bible School, which in ’87 averaged 160 to 170 children in attendance each day. Children had their own special Children’s Time in the worship service, begun by associate ministers in the fall of ’83.  Youth enjoyed Bible studies, camps, Youth Sunday, and mission projects, as well as choir tours and out-of-state trips facilitated by the purchase of a new bus.  In 1988 the 34-member confirmation class was the largest to that date.

The United Methodist Women sponsored retreats and studies, hosted receptions, volunteered many hours at mission projects, funded local missions through highly successful Fall Bazaars, and contributed annually to the Women’s Division of Global Missions.  In 1989 there were thirteen circles and 278 active members. The United Methodist Men also organized, receiving their charter in 1989.

FUMC supported over thirty mission endeavors, including Nellie Burge Community Center, the Jail Ministry, 4-H camp, the Methodist Children’s Home, Noah’s Ark, Homes for the Aging, Meals on Wheels, Montgomery Area Council on Aging, and Mt. Meigs youth facility.  Contributions went to Birmingham Southern College, Huntingdon College, the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund, and the Pension Funding Crusade.  Conference and District donations supported missionaries in Japan, Brazil, India, Nigeria, and Costa Rica, and the congregation began a special effort to support missionaries in Mozambique.  Members performed hands-on mission work in several states, as well as locally through the new Great Day of Service.  Additional new services for church and community members came with the financing of a counseling center with a part-time certified United Methodist Counselor in October of 1986 and the training of the first Stephen Ministers in 1989.

The music program also prospered.  In 1989 six vocal choirs for ages six years to adults, four handbell choirs for 6th graders to adults, a flute choir, and a bass ensemble contributed to worship.  In 1986 FUMC hosted a handbell festival attended by nine local choirs.  The Cathedral Choir held annual reunions, with 80 singers present in 1988.  In 1989 the organ was revoiced and had cymbalism added, air conditioning was added to the choir loft, and new robes were obtained for all choirs.  A new United Methodist Hymnal, the first since 1966, featured a variety of multi-cultural music in addition to traditional liturgical hymns. Also in 1989 the choir played a central role in a very foggy Easter sunrise service at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

In part due to this wide range of programs, membership climbed.  In 1986 membership was about 2,600; by 1989 it was about 2,800.  In 1988 alone 174 new members joined.  New programs such as Personal Intentional Evangelism (PIE) and parties in the Stegall home welcomed new members.

FUMC members were as generous as they were numerous.  Although a financial report “showed December 1984 to be the church’s finest hour financially,” this finest hour was soon eclipsed.  By 1989 the church budget had been oversubscribed for five years running.  In 1988 over $1,000,000 was pledged on Laity Sunday. The 1989 budget of over $2,000,000 was 83% paid by August.  FUMC routinely led the Alabama-West Florida Conference in giving to missions and to the Conference Capital Fund Campaign.

This phenomenal growth and generosity occurred in spite of the inconvenience and expense of an extensive renovation project.  The Heritage Club provided much routine maintenance – 500 man hours and savings of $7,000 in repair costs in 1984 alone – and some maintenance and additions were completed as separate projects, such as stained glass repair and exterior protection in 1984.  The Garth and its memorials were completed and dedicated on September 14, 1986.   But from June of ’86 to December of ’87 a massive overhaul transformed the entire campus.  The ground floor of Fellowship Hall was renovated into six classrooms and a library with an archives vault.  On the main floor the kitchen was enlarged and a new kitchen added.  Office suites for ministerial and business staff, a conference room, and a bridal parlor were installed.  A new entrance and corridor were added near the kitchen. On the top floor, finishes and lighting were renovated and a shower room added.  In the Education Building the wing northwest of the sanctuary became a new preschool and nursery wing, the library became a classroom for the Fidelis class, the ministerial suite became a church parlor with access to the Garth, and the story above this was revamped into two classrooms. Elevators were installed in the Fellowship and Education Buildings.  In the sanctuary, former office space was converted to storage, the basement and tower room were renovated, and a new lighting system was installed.  The south porte-cochère provided a new entrance to the sanctuary, and the new Narthex Vestibule connected the Narthex to the South Arcade. Outdoor parking areas were paved and expanded; sidewalks repaired; the playground moved and expanded; exterior stone cleaned, repointed, and waterproofed; a storage building added; and new drives from Park Avenue to West Cloverdale and from the south parking lot to Park Avenue completed.  A Capital Fund Campaign helped finance the $2,500,000 project.  At the same time a goal of $90,000 for the Alabama-West Florida Conference Capital Fund Campaign was met two years ahead of schedule.  Memorials throughout the buildings testify to the generosity of the congregation. Throughout the project, the congregation remained gracious and enthusiastic, and patience paid off on January 2, 1988 when an open house showcased the newly renovated buildings for the congregation and the public to explore at their own pace.

In a fitting conclusion to the decade, in1989 FUMC played a central role in helping to host the first Annual Conference of the Alabama-West Florida autonomous Episcopal Area with Bishop Charles W. Hancock presiding.  The youth choir provided special music, and ordination was held in the sanctuary followed by a reception in Fellowship Hall.  In spite of potential setbacks, the 1980s at FUMC had proved an outstanding decade for sharing the transforming love of Jesus Christ.

1990s – Thriving Through the Vision

As we complete our Plan 2020 visioning process, it is inspiring to reflect on the many Vision 2000 positive achievements, most of which are still functioning today. After launching in 1992 as part of an annual conference-wide program, this visioning identified 73 goals, to be implemented over seven years, beginning in 1996.

Ministries to our members strengthened and expanded in this decade:

o The Stephen Ministry (1990) actively recruited and trained 94 volunteers, and in 1999 we had 54 active ministers plus leaders.

o The Wednesday evening chapel service started, with communion, in September, 1991, in response to a congregational request for more communion opportunities.

o Annual Fall Attendance program peaked (1996) with 1,497 in worship and 1,125 in Sunday School;

o The Disciple Bible Studies Program (1991) answered a huge need, with 95 members registering by 1998;

o The Lenten Studies goal was met with 180 members participating in nineteen Covenant Disciple groups (1997), many of which continued past the six weeks;

o A new Work Area on Prayer was established (1996), which organized three-day Annual Prayer Conferences in 1997, 1998, and 1999.

o A new Youth Ministry Council (1991) was formed, and Winter Retreat attendance soared to 165 youth and chaperones (1999).

o The Fix-It Shop (1990) provided upkeep services for church buildings, crafts for Fall Bazaar, VBS assistance, and minor repairs for members.

o A Samaritan Counseling Center opened on campus (1999), providing faith-based professional counseling to our congregation and the community.

o The Cathedral in the Pines Concert Series (1995), Best of Broadway concerts (1996), nearly 400 members participating in the music program (1997), and installation of the horizontal festival trumpets in the balcony (1998) all enhanced our music program.

Mission activities exploded in this decade:

• The White Christmas offering for the decade totaled ~$265,500, with the 1997 challenge gift of $65, 293 the largest gift ever received from a local church;

• The Pancake Run for Missions (1992) was started by Rev. Mark LaBranche, and by 1999 over 200 runners participated;

• We sponsored seven Habitat for Humanity houses and co-sponsored two more in this decade, by private donations of land and cash exceeding $200,000, and countless volunteer hours;

• The Great Day of Service was held in March and September, with up to 375 members participating;

• Boy Scout Troop 15, our sponsored troop, celebrated its 50th Anniversary on December, 16, 1991. In 1996 it would acquire its own space in Wesley Hall;

• Lay members led a $1,000,000 capital funds campaign for the Nellie Burge Community Center in 1998, with our portion set at $50,000. We rose to the challenge and raised $300,000, and a state-of-the-art day care facility opened in mid-2002; and

• The UMW Fall Bazaar raised $35,950 (1997) for local charities.

The UMW Fall Bazaar continued to grow, with all profits going to local charities.

Ladies of the church would hand smock delicate dresses and day gowns all year long, as there was no other source in Montgomery. These items were in such high demand that strict rules were developed, so that no one could buy ahead. Other beautifully decorated rooms, filled with lovingly prepared items, included the Frozen Foods, Baked Goods, Craft Room, and Art Room.

The Children’s Ministry continued to grow strong, with Vacation Bible School a yearly highlight. Each year a different theme was used, a musician secured, and Youth helpers recruited. Attendance grew by 20 percent in this decade. The annual summer trek to Camp Lee (1994) also began with only 17 staff and campers. Flashlight tag, cool crafts, relevant devotionals, and a rock slide all contributed to make this a favorite activity even today. ELMO (1991) and Sprouts (199x) offered new worship and fellowship opportunities. Confirmation classes shifted from 6th to 7th grade (1998), taught by ministers, and graduating class size averaged 35. The Children’s Spring Musical by the Children’s Choirs continued to evolve with more children, costumes, backdrops, choreography, and instrumental accompaniment, as the older children look forward to a starring role by the time they enter the oldest choir.

Upgrading technology was another urgent goal. In 1983 we were one of the first customers of what is now one of the largest church management software providers worldwide. We used an IBM System 36 and three “dumb” terminals, hardwired in, for data processing, word processing and office management functions. But by the 1990s the need to upgrade to a network system was pressing. A huge milestone occurred in November 1999, when a church member/staff was hired to establish a network of personal computers for the staff, on a server, with updated, network-based software. Other technological upgrades included new television broadcasting equipment, and a new lighting and sound system for Fellowship Hall.

Dr. Stegall joked that grandmothers made him do it, but a major visioning goal was achieved with the opening of an Early Childhood Development Center. Its purpose is to provide Christian nurture in a safe, secure and caring setting for children of working parent members. After four years of visiting other facilities and research;, writing policies, job descriptions and age-related program goals; remodeling the Fellowship Building lower floor, and purchasing equipment and furnishings; hiring staff and working out safety issues and a meal program, the ECDC opened in March 1997 to a full capacity of 64 children. The center served children six weeks through four years of age, and children of church members were given preference for available spots.

The parking issue flared up in the mid-1990s, and initially caused some tension between the church and our neighbors. We purchased two lots with the intent of making all or part of the lots into parking spaces, but the Old Cloverdale Association opposed the church’s plans. Ultimately a compromise was reached at 855 Park Avenue, when the church constructed a lovely architecturally appropriate house with a few parking spaces behind it. The church committed to the association that this house could only be used for retired ministers. Rev. Torrence and Bobbie Maxey were the first occupants, and thoroughly enjoyed being so close to the church.

The crowning achievement of the 1990s was the design, construction and funding of Wesley Hall ($4.5 million), our newest building. The church had not added a building since the early 1960s. By early 1990s not only was space critical for existing programs, but lack of facilities such as Family Life Centers was a concern. Conceptual designs, space utilization studies, building campaigns, city approvals, and congregational support, all had to coalesce before the groundbreaking on June 5, 1994. Construction generally proceeded smoothly, (except for an unknown pool filled in with concrete), and great care was taken to match the architectural details and features of existing buildings. The stone masons did fall behind schedule, but no one dared rush them. The stained glass windows, designed to honor our Methodist founders and Methodist educational institutions, were made in Virginia. The Open House was held in August, 1996, and although the building was planned for five years out, it was full within a year. By mid-1999 plans to build out the attic for the growing Youth Department were in progress.

The close of this decade showed us to be a thriving, vital and generous congregation. We also closed strong financially, as the indebtness on Wesley Hall was retired.

The 21st Century—The Vision Endures

The 2000’s at FUMC began with an evaluation of how well we had implemented the previous long-range plan, Vision 2000, and with planning for the next: Vision 2007.  Dr. Stegall’s staff at the beginning of the new century included our first female associate, Robin Wilson, and her husband Jeff Wilson.  Building and remodeling projects continued to enrich our campus, including the construction of a house (with the added bonus of twenty-three new parking spots) on Park Avenue and the conversion of Wesley Hall’s attic into a functional Youth Assembly Room, completed in spring 2001.

In 2002 and 2003, Jeremy Pridgeon and Patrick Quinn were appointed as associates after the Wilsons’ departure.  The Children’s Council took pride in FUMC’s being named a “Church for All God’s Children,” and new church members were welcomed at quarterly “Minister’s Coffees.”  Extensive renovations to our outdated kitchen and to the children’s wing of the Education Building significantly improved those areas.  The sale of the Reese property on Cloverdale Road in 2004 helped to finance our new heating and air conditioning system.  “To God Be the Glory” became the theme of FUMC’s 175th Anniversary celebration in September, which included the erection of a historical marker in front of the sanctuary.  Our church’s generous and long-term response to victims suffering the ravages of Hurricane Katrina was one of the great moments in our history.  In October 2005, the purchase of property on Zelda Road enabled the Samaritan Counseling Center and the Clothes Bank to expand into their new location.  Late that year, FUMC prayerfully considered a proposed merger with troubled Dexter Avenue UMC but eventually decided that although we would welcome their members into our congregation, we could not take on the financial responsibility of maintaining their deteriorating buildings.

The appointment of David Saliba in June 2006 gave FUMC our much-needed third associate.  Aid to Katrina victims continued for many months, and planning began for the development of FUMC’s Joseph Ministry, which now provides compassionate care and assistance for the bereaved families in our church as they deal with the many details involved in the loss of loved ones.  In October, a magnificent new children’s playground was dedicated to the Glory of God (possibly the only Gothic style playground in Methodism!).  The Confirmation Program was revamped this year, including the start of a yearly Confirmation Retreat at Lake Junaluska and the pairing of each confirmand with a mentor to guide his or her faith journey.

June 2007 marked the retirement of FUMC’s longest-serving pastor, Dr. Karl Stegall, after almost twenty-four years as senior minister.  Long a champion of providing assistance to seminary students struggling to become United Methodist clergy, Dr. Stegall resolved to create a foundation for that purpose. FUMC members expressed their love for their retiring pastor by contributing more than $1,600,000 to kickstart the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Endowment.  (By 2014, this endowment had already exceeded its initial goal of $5,000,000.)  Dr. Stegall and his family were honored on the occasion of his retirement with a huge celebration in Riverwalk Stadium, attended by thousands of well-wishers, including FUMC members, former associate pastors, colleagues, and other friends.

One of the first tasks of newly appointed Dr. Lawson Bryan upon his arrival was to oversee the evaluation of how well the Vision 2007 plan had been implemented and to begin work on the next long-range plan, Vision 2012.  In September, our television ministry expanded by providing a live internet broadcast of the 11:00 service, now able to be seen throughout the world.  Hurricane Katrina recovery aid continued with plans to build a house in Moss Point, MS for a family who had not had a permanent residence since the hurricane struck.  FUMC members who had attended the Court Street church were interviewed this year in order to preserve on a DVD their memories of the downtown church and the building of our Cloverdale campus.

In 2008, Jeremy Pridgeon and Patrick Quinn both moved on, and Nathan Attwood was appointed as FUMC’s newest associate.  Improvements to our buildings this year included the installation of permanent cabinets in Fellowship Hall, new flooring in Wesley Hall’s gym, and renovations to the balcony in the sanctuary.

A job description was prepared for the hiring of a Volunteer Coordinator, a need suggested by the new long-range plan presented in January.  Dr. Bryan began to develop his dream of FUMC becoming a “teaching church,” where interns could get hands-on experience working with clergy, music, children, youth, programming, or in any areas toward which they might feel a call.

Jay Cooper filled our third associate pastor position in June 2009, and the Program Secretary’s position was created.  The progress and expansion of the College Ministry included the participation of six Huntingdon students working as interns in various church programs.  Among upgrades to FUMC’s information technology were new opportunities for online giving and online event registration, as well as wireless internet in all buildings.  Planning began for a badly needed Respite Ministry with the appointment of a steering committee in November, and in the same month, a Court Street Methodist Church historical marker was dedicated on the site of the original location of our congregation, at the corner of Court and Church streets.  Many of our members were adversely affected by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, but as Dr. Bryan was able to report at the end of the year, “Despite severe economic downturn, FUMC members have responded to the needs of the church with faith and courage, due to the legacy given to us by those who moved the church to its present location and constructed the new sanctuary during the Great Depression.  Our current congregation respects that legacy and wants to see it continued in our church today.”

Early in 2010, our church partnered for the first time with Aldersgate and Frazer UMCs in our annual Great Day of Service; over 2,500 volunteers worked on sixty or more projects to help those in need.  FUMC also partnered with Huntingdon College to lease and renovate Cloverdale School for various community ministries, and in September we started Ancient-Future services at that site.  Our ministerial staff responsibilities were restructured in order to best use their unique gifts, with the three associates becoming Minister of Mission and Service, Minister of Discipleship, and Executive Minister.  The Joy for Johnny ministry began in October, providing free time for the families of children with special needs while they are lovingly cared for by trained volunteers.

In response to the devastating tornadoes of April 2011, FUMC members formed daily response teams to help wherever needed, and provided food at a local church in Cordova for workers and victims there and in other areas of Walker County.  Dr. Bryan’s “Teaching Church” idea became more refined and developed, with interns finding employment in various forms of ministry, some as full-time staff members at United Methodist churches.  In October, on the occasion of Bishop Paul Duffey’s departure from Montgomery, our chapel was named in honor of Bishop Duffey and his late wife Louise.

FUMC’s first Religious Arts Festival took place in February 2012, involving exhibits of members’ artwork, workshops for children, and musical concerts.  In April the Respite Ministry began providing care and recreation for individuals with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and similar ailments, offering their care-givers a chance to rest and recharge.  Annual Conference that year marked the departure of Nathan Attwood and the appointment of John Blount as Associate Pastor in his place.   The Nellie Burge Community Center was revitalized beginning in August by the opening of Mary Ellen’s Hearth (named to honor the late Mary Ellen Bullard of FUMC, a long-term Nellie Burge volunteer) to serve homeless women and their children,.  In 2012 for the first time, the Episcopal Church of the Ascension joined FUMC and Temple Beth-Or in their traditional joint Thanksgiving service.

At Pentecost in 2013, FUMC hosted the congregations of other churches in the broad Wesleyan tradition (Wesleyan Methodist, AME, AME Zion, CME, and others) at a well-attended Pentecost service celebrating our common heritage.  The renovation and repair of our church’s stained glass windows began in May 2013, in order to preserve their magnificence for years to come.  To help meet such needs, FUMC created the Cathedral Builders Fund, a long-term endowment for maintaining our buildings and facilities.  Plans were also initiated this year to expand the church’s Columbarium.  June saw the appointment of Gillian Walters as associate, in place of departing David Saliba.  In December at the Cloverdale campus, FUMC promoted an Alternative Gift Fair, an opportunity to give donations to various charities in honor of friends or relatives, rather than buying them unwanted or unneeded Christmas gifts.  Annual Conference in 2014 was an historic occasion, as all three of FUMC’s current associate ministers were ordained as elders in the UMC.  The celebration of FUMC’s 185th anniversary in September was saddened by the death of Linda Gill, who as church organist had assisted our Director of Music Jack Horner for nineteen years in leading the renowned music ministry of our congregation.  A contract was signed in October accepting our offer to purchase property on West Cloverdale Park adjacent to the church, significantly enlarging our campus.

How appropriate it is that one of the most recent actions taken by our church in its long and inspiring history was the Administrative Board’s adoption in September of this year of “Vision 2020” after months of careful research and prayerful consideration.  This detailed plan will guide our growth for the next few years and will reflect our mission, our vision, and our core values as we honor the legacies of our church mothers and fathers while faithfully sharing the transforming love of Christ through worship, witness, and service.

Our Vision for the Future: PLAN 2020

As important as it is to remember and celebrate how God has led First United Methodist Church (FUMC) for 187 years, it is equally important to ask for God’s vision for the future. In 2015, we approved PLAN 2020: a five-year plan for how FUMC will continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Work on a new long-range planning process began in June 2013, with opportunities for input from church members, clergy, staff, college students, Cloverdale business owners and residents,

Huntingdon College leadership, and executive directors of various missions and ministries.

Twenty-six trained facilitators led forty-seven home/church meetings for church members and external groups. Results, equaling 200 pages, were recorded electronically by staff members from the AUM Office of Outreach. The Steering Committee reviewed each page of the collected data and prayerfully considered the goals, strategies, and intended outcomes for PLAN 2020.

Jay Cooper, as spiritual leader and his PLAN 2020 Steering Committee, keeping before them II CHRONICLES 7:14, challenged each other and the congregation to pray each morning and evening at 7:14 that God would reveal his vision for the future of FUMC. Perhaps Jay put it best when he said, “We know that if we humble ourselves and pray and are open to hearing his voice, God will allow us into his imagination–where possibilities have no bounds.”

The Steering Committee will present the detailed PLAN 2020 report to the congregation on Epiphany Sunday in January—in the meantime, here is a summary of its goals and strategies, compiled to support FUMC’s Core Values:

Goal I:  Define biblically grounded pathways to membership, discipleship, and service available for all members to educate and nurture spiritual growth.

Develop and implement the Pathways to Membership, Discipleship, and Service that show a comprehensive approach to engaging in the life and ministry of the church. Fully fund and implement the Youth Ministry Redesign plan. Create additional age-specific small spiritual development groups, including but not limited to Sunday School classes, supper clubs, and other spiritual development groups. Develop a page on the website that can be updated on a quarterly basis to publicize Sunday School curriculum and mission programs. Provide biblical studies and spiritual development resources that utilize new technologies. Develop and implement a spiritual growth mentorship program. Implement a mentor/sponsor program for all new members in order to more effectively use their time, talents and opportunities for service at FUMC. Establish an intergenerational mentoring program to teach younger members the importance of missions and stewardship.

Goal II:  Practice a radical, welcoming hospitality to all and nurture individuals and families through programs and activities that span age, life stages, and diverse needs. 

Define radical hospitality and practice it in all relationships with individuals, groups, and community, including the development of a visitor information center. Explore opportunities for partnering with other churches in social service and in programs such as the Alternative Gift Fair. Work with community agencies to develop and implement processes for using volunteers, financial resources, and our physical facilities in a manner consistent with our mission and core values, to benefit the River Region. Develop a plan to recruit and retain young adults. Ask the Early Childhood Development Center and First School boards to develop a mission statement that better integrates their operation into the life of the church. Continue to be a church anchor for Huntingdon College students and students from other colleges in the River Region. Create opportunities for fellowship, study, worship, and service with all Montgomery churches, especially with those in the Wesleyan tradition. Build relationships with groups from diverse cultures, nationalities, and backgrounds, enabling the church to see potential opportunities, address needs, and work alongside more diverse individuals. Station greeters at all doors to create a hospitable environment as worshipers enter for worship and exit afterwards.

Goal III:  Fully engage our responsibility to be good stewards of the many gifts of God’s grace.  

Provide financial and stewardship education throughout the year to move toward 100% congregation participation in stewardship. Develop and implement an educational plan to teach the congregation how the money given to the church is allocated and dispersed. Add a stewardship section to the Tower Chimes and other publications that focuses on a ministry of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Explore the use of technology for financial giving to the church. Review the Every Member in Ministry process to make it more  effective. Conduct systematic audits of existing and proposed programs, ministries, and missions for the best use of financial, staff, physical, and member resources that aligns with our core values. Establish a ministry to teach our church’s history and its architectural symbols of faith,  reminding members that the hope of the future is built on the faith of the past.

Goal IV.  Honor our responsibility to those beyond our walls as we share with, care for, and support those in need in our community and afar.  

Include in the Pathway to Service the Great Day of Service, quarterly church-wide mission projects, mission projects designed for family participation, and foreign mission projects. Increase each year the number of first time participants in local missions. Communicate mission activities and opportunities throughout the year in more creative and effective ways. Establish a transportation ministry for persons who have limited mobility or lack transportation to medical or other important appointments. Relocate the Clothes Bank, the Furniture Ministry, and Social Services to a more spacious and user-friendly location. Develop space on the church campus to support expanded Respite and Joy for Johnny ministries. Create additional, purposed space for Family Promise on the church campus. Explore the feasibility of early childhood schooling programs as sponsored by other churches for children of lower income families. Support, fund, and seek ways for members to be actively involved in prison ministries throughout the River Region. Partner with existing community nonprofits to support local missions.

Goal V:  Reflect the importance of prayer as a means of communication with God as we consistently seek God’s guidance in priorities, decisions, and actions. 

Develop, publish and distribute a descriptive list of available on-going FUMC prayer opportunities, support and strengthen the Prayer Conference to increase the number of participating members. Compile sets of prayer resources and curricula to support the prayer life and rhythm of different age groups, life stages and personal needs. Initiate an evening prayer service or expand a present service to allow for a variety of prayer practices to be experienced. Identify an annual prayer theme to be woven into the life of the congregation.

Goal VI: Build on our calling to offer traditional worship in a variety of ways linked to its rich history and valuing the Wesleyan tradition. 

Increase the number of attendees in weekly worship services. Define and describe in user friendly literature “Wesleyan Tradition” as the foundation for our six Core Values. Communicate the range of currently offered worship opportunities that reflect that tradition and publish an annotated description of each offering. Define additional worship opportunities in the Wesleyan tradition that could/should be planned to ensure a variety of traditional worship. Assign each member of the Worship Work Area a “Festival Sunday” for which they will lead a creative team. The team will study the Wesleyan Traditions related to the Festival Sunday, research what churches of similar size and approaches do, and plan for the Sunday assigned. Support Huntingdon College’s offering of a Contemporary Service on the Huntingdon Campus. Increase and enhance the involvement and experience of laity in worship services. Include more frequent youth participation in all facets of the worship services. Promote the involvement of more women in all facets of the worship experience traditionally held by men. Offer continual training opportunities for all who lead during worship services. Expand the annual religious arts festival as a means of exploring and appreciating the rich history of religious arts. Seek ways to balance the noise of the needed social time at the beginning of the service with an emphasis on creating a more reverent preparation by the congregation for Sunday worship. Review the music ministry and annual music offerings to insure that staff and resources are available to fully support the outstanding tradition of worshipful music at FUMC.

Goal VII:  Review the current state of the buildings and physical space, identify future needs for physical space, and develop a plan to address existing issues and future needs.  

Conduct an accessibility audit of the facilities and parking lots and take specific steps to improve accessibility for those with limited mobility. Enhance and fully monitor short- and long-term housekeeping and cleaning of all facilities. Improve facilities for babies and nursing mothers. Establish an energy policy that includes an audit to be conducted every five years and the implementation of energy-saving features. Provide adequate permanent parking. Review the timing of Sunday worship services to help eliminate, as possible and appropriate, overlap of parking space requirements. Develop and implement an Intergenerational Maintenance and Preservation Plan designed to maintain and preserve the gothic architecture of the facility. Conduct a feasibility study to identify any needed expansion for current FUMC ministries and plan for developing space for such expansion. Provide adequate space for all ministries and programs, including new or expanded ministries and programs instituted under Plan 2020. Identify available Sunday School space or plan for developing space for college students. Provide fundraising for expansion of space and future maintenance and construction. Create an FUMC history display area and provide museum space to display archived items. Provide more space for archives by moving library to a high traffic area of Education Building. Update and expand library in new location. Convert present library space to Records Management Center. Add part-time trained archivist to the staff. Complete the project of recementing, professionally cleaning, and repairing all stained glass for the entire campus. Assess and enhance the lighting and sound in the sanctuary.

If you are interested in purchasing a book of our history, please contact the church office at 334-834-8990.

If you are interested in purchasing a book of our history, please contact the church office at 334-834-8990.