First United Methodist Church is one of the congregations of the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our congregation seeks to provide opportunities for individuals to grow in their faith as they serve God and others. This is in keeping with our mission of helping each person live faithfully and purposefully as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
The Methodist movement took root in the village of Mount Vernon in 1852. The First Methodist Episcopal Church was established as the first organized congregation in the city limits of the village of Mount Vernon. It was located on what is now the corner of Second Street and Eighth Avenue. The building was dedicated on February 8, 1854.
" ... in early 1852, services were conducted by the First Methodist Episcopal Church in one of the Mount Vernon private residences, and the cornerstone of the church building was laid by the religious organization in 1853." (taken from 'Historical Review of Mount Vernon, NY', 1927, page 19)
"On Sunday, January 13, 1861, Rev. William H. Book, the staunch abolitionist pastor of the First Methodist Church, preached 'Antidote to Rev. H.J. Van Dykes's Pro-Slavery Discourse - American Slavery has no foundation in the Scriptures.' He argued that the Bible did not approve slavery. It was a public and courageous sermon Book proved his strength of his faith by resigning and becoming the Union Army chaplain." (taken from "Images of America - Mount Vernon" written by Larry A. Spruill, PhD, page 28.)
In the 1880s, the village of Mount Vernon expanded very rapidly, and was incorporated as the City of Mount Vernon in 1892. Much of the expansion was in the East Lincoln – “Chester Hill” – area, where many spacious homes were being built. Despite the fact that First Methodist Episcopal Church, at West 2nd Street and South 8th Avenue, was flourishing and had just opened its new commodious red-brick building in 1886, a group of Methodists near East Lincoln Avenue desired to open a new church on Chester Hill.
The Chester Hill Methodist Episcopal Church was incorporated on Nov. 22, 1897, and met in a temporary wooden chapel on Summit Avenue while our present Church was being built. The first Pastor, the Rev. Royal W. Raymond, was appointed in 1898, and the first President of the Board of Trustees was Dr. Thomas A. Fletcher, a dentist. (His name is perpetuated in Fletcher Avenue, three blocks west of our Church.)
Under his vigorous leadership, the Trustees took title to the present property on May 20, 1899. On June 7, 1900, ground was broken, and the cornerstone laid on July 28, 1900. The Church building was dedicated on May 19, 1901 by Bishop Cyrus D. Ross. The Rev. Crandall J. North was then the pastor.
Two trustees were builders: John Dawson and William Archer. The firm of Dawson and Archer had already built the First Methodist Church, and now they acted as contractors for the new Church, with personal commitment, enthusiasm and generosity. Working from plans by the architect, George Washington Kramer, they built the church in one year.
The building, at the summit of the hill, was constructed in the I Romanesque Revival Style, and on the “Akron Plan”, which was very popular among Protestant Churches at the time. The main feature of the “Akron Plan” is the folding wall between the sanctuary and the Sunday school rooms, allowing for a very large, open space, if needed.
The Church is built with stone quarried in Mount Vernon (in the area of Primrose and North Columbus Avenues.) The tower is 85 feet high, and contains a clock installed by the nationally-known Seth Thomas firm. The Pulpit and Communion table were made in the Methodist Mission School in Venice, Italy, by students learning the art of fine woodcarving; and a small plaster rosette, in the ceiling of what was then the pastor’s office, was taken from the original ceiling of Wesley’s Chapel in London, and donated to tour Church.
The Chester Hill Church prospered and in the early 1930s, the congregation decided to expand the building. With a very generous challenge gift by Warren Diefendorf, the present Gym (“Diefendorf Room”) and the three large classrooms above it, were opened for service to the Church and Community in 1935.
The Morrison Place Methodist Church, located off of South Fulton Avenue, was a congregation comprised mostly of Methodist of Swedish origin. On September 12, 1954, Morrison Place Methodist Church merged with Chester Hill Methodist Church.
After World War II, memberships in both First Church and Chester Hill Church declined and on May 23, 1967, the congregations merged, using the First Church name and the Chester Hill site.
Over the years, the church building has been home not only to congregations of United Methodist for worship but has opened for many community programs and functions, including a Food Pantry, a Tutoring Program for elementary children for over 20 years, gym activities for Mount Vernon’s youth and other congregations ( Bible Church of Christ, Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, our current congregation sharing our facility, Christ International Center, a Spanish-speaking church.
After many years of good intentioned but inadequate repairs, the Administrative Council and Board of Trustees approved an architectural condition-survey program and a fund-raising campaign (“Your Church – Moving Forward into the 21st Century”), to commence on January 1, 1998. This was activated to enhance the congregations’ worship center as well as provide better and safer services to the community. Since that beginning, the infrastructure of the church such as the heating plant and electrical work has been replaced or upgraded, a fire and safety alarm system increases the protection for groups using our building, and the signature clock has been repaired. The gymnasium received a new floor and echoes the sounds of basketball games for various age groups throughout each week. The sanctuary, including stain glass perimeter windows and a replica central chandelier from the stained glass skylight, has been restored to reflect the beauty that first shown over 100 years ago. The Church building is now a part of the National Registry of Historic Places.
THE BARTHOLOW BIBLE CLASS
The Reverend Otho Bartholow was appointed pastor of First Church in 1905. On the first Sunday of October, he began the Men’s Bible Class with 8 men attending. The first Sunday of October 1906, 56 men attended, and in 1907, 276.
The class continued to grow until it had over 1,000 members. In the meantime, the Women’s Bible Class grew to over 700 members.
During the 1920’s, the Bartholow Class was instrumental in the formation of the National Federation of Bible Classes, still in existence and built the Memorial Building across the street from First Church for the Bible Class and other activities (now known as the Macedonia Community Center). Dr. Bartholow taught the class until his retirement in 1942 and, with few exceptions, Pastors have followed in his footsteps.