First UMC to mark 175 years

SDN Staff Reports

First United Methodist Church will celebrate 175 years in ministry later this month with a camp-meeting approach.
On Oct. 24, United Methodist Church Mississippi Conference Bishop Hope Morgan Ward will preach at the 8:30 a.m. service, followed by Sunday School.
Pastor Emeritus Dr. Prentiss Gordon will preach at the 11 a.m. service.
Dinner will follow in the Christian Life Center.
When asked if he saw any themes in the church’s history, Senior Pastor Dr. Danny R. Rowland said “perseverance.”
The church’s response to Hurricane Katrina stands out to Rowland in reflecting on his time with FUMC.
It became a rally point for relief efforts and the fellowship hall turned into a staging center, he said.
The church began with seven charter members in 1835. The congregation now stands at 2,211 members and “it continues to grow,” Rowland said.
The congregation has developed “a well-rounded ministry,” he said, with “constant coming-and-going for all different things.”
The church is out of room and parking space and church leaders are working on a master facility plan to allow for more ministry, Rowland said.
“If the church could continue what it is doing in an intentional way, I don’t know that you could ask for more,” he said.
Church staff supplied a history of the congregation compiled in May 2007 from Gene Ramsey Miller’s “A History of the First Methodist Church of Starkville, Mississippi,” written in 1962 and Jack M. Tuell’s “The Organization of The United Methodist Church, Revised 1989 Edition” published by Abingdon Press.
In 1834, Jacob Matthews, a visiting circuit rider of the Methodist Episcopal Church, held the first Methodist service in this area in a grove of sweet gum trees near a spring the Choctaw Indians called Hic A Sha Ba Ha.  His pulpit was a stump; his congregation sat on a few wooden rails.  In 1835, Elijah and Mary Hogan, James and Louisa Walton, W.H. Wilson, J.W.S. Heath “and wife” chartered the local Methodist church.
The first building of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Starkville, erected in 1839, was a two-story brick building with an open fireplace and an ample gallery for slave members.  By the 1850s the walls of this church building had become so badly cracked that the building was propped up by heavy timbers.
Later deemed unsafe, the building was torn down.
The second church was a larger frame building erected on the old foundation. It had columns around three sides, and once again had galleries in the interior.  In 1845, the dividing date of the Methodists of the north and south, the official name of the denomination was changed to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.
The name, Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Starkville, remained until 1939 when national unification took place and the church was renamed the First Methodist Church.
In 1885, the third church building was erected during the pastorate of J.S. Oakley.  It was a large Gothic style frame building with a vaulted ceiling and was located on the site of the earlier two buildings.
After much debate about the direction the church faced, it was decided that the church would face south instead of east.
The present church, the fourth building on the site, was erected in 1926 during the pastorate of V.C. Curtis.  As membership grew and activities increased, the Church School Building was completed in 1964; the building was dedicated in 1973 after the final payments were made. 
The Christian Life Center was added in 1996. In 1968, with the mergers of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, the church name became the First United Methodist Church of Starkville.
Always a part of John Wesley’s Methodism, a disciplined religious society which began in the 1700s in England, the First United Methodist Church of Starkville has grown and changed under the guidelines of the Methodist General Conference, the legislative body of United Methodism. 
Although the church has occupied four buildings and has had four name changes, it continues to be a church from which Christians move out into the structures of society, those who compiled the history wrote.