First United Methodist Church celebrates 150th anniversary

First United Methodist Church in Alpena has spent this year celebrating its 150th anniversary with a variety of special events. The celebration culminated Oct. 21 with an anniversary dinner held at the APlex.

During the dinner, Deloris Law presented a history of the church which she researched for many months prior to the event. A powerpoint put together by Marlo Broad was shown as part of the history celebration.

According to the history drawn in part from historical scrapbooks compiled by Marlene (Curby) Stephen, Methodists were a presence in the early history of Alpena where they were served by the Thunder Bay Charge in the Port Huron District and mentioned in the 1859 conference minutes. A church was not formally organized, however, until April 17, 1867, when 25 founding members with Rev. P.O. Johnson held their first service at the Good Templar Hall.

In the next 100 years, that congregation moved several times to meet the needs of a growing membership which reached 960 in 1966. The North Second at Miller location was dedicated in 1869, but was outgrown by 1883 when the building was sold to the Polish Catholic Church known as St. Mary’s.

The new location was found on Chisholm Street between Second and Third avenues where the congregation continued to serve and grow for 79 years until the Ripley Boulevard site was acquired.

Ground-breaking ceremonies were held June 28, 1964, for the education unit with construction completed by the first service there on Feb. 20, 1966. By Sept. 24, 1967, the members celebrated 100 years of worship and followed up with a centennial banquet on Oct. 19. 1967.

In 1968, Methodists nationwide joined the Evangelical United Brethren Church and became the First United Methodist Church with the cross and flame symbol. The old Chisholm Street site was sold to a local realtor after the church building was razed in 1969.

The educational unit’s mortgage was burned in a special service held in 1974. That cleared the way for the next phase of construction at Ripley Boulevard where another ground breaking ceremony was held for the current sanctuary. The cornerstone was laid Sept. 14, 1975, followed by the first service in the new sanctuary on Dec. 21, 1975.

From then until now, the congregation has served its members and the community from the Ripley Boulevard location while the bell on the lawn from the 1869 church reminds members of their heritage.

Turkey dinners started in the 1930s during the Depression Era and continued annually until 2015, usually serving 500. The dinners became a welcome gathering place for Christian fellowship and county-wide interaction.

After 1964, a major focus was on serving the youth with Sunday School programs and youth group activities. On several occasions the church hosted large Methodist youth regional conferences. In Alpena, it was a time of burgeoning growth for the local schools and the congregation responded to community changes and needs.

Throughout the past 50 years, the congregation has been served by nine dedicated pastors. The list begins with Rev. Verle Carson (1965-1972), followed by Rev. Louis O. Ellinger (1972-1975), Rev. Merton Seymour (1975-1983), Rev. Clive Dickins (1983-1995), Rev. Kenneth Christler (1995-2000), Rev. Kenneth Ray (2000-2003), Rev. Dave Diamond (2003-2006) and Rev. Eugene Bacon (2006-2016). In July 2016, the congregation welcomed current Pastor Susan Pratt.

Activities for enriching worship and lives at the church have been widely varied over recent years. There have been family camping trips, dramatic presentations, junior and senior bell choirs, a large retirees luncheon group, adult choir, active Boy Scout Troop 72, Red Cross blood drives, Junior Girl Scouts and Cadette Troops, United Methodist Women and Joy Groups, United Methodist Men’s monthly dinners, prayer chain, visitations and study groups.

Other more recently active areas are the Hearts to Home Ministry, shut-in communion services, Prayer Shawl Ministry and Church in the Park, which has been held weekly in July and August for more than 20 years. In the area of missions, $5,000 was raised in 2000 for a cabin at the Liberian mission in Monrovia and youth traveled to Red Bird Mission in Kentucky and Cass Corridor in Detroit. There were trips to Icthus events and Emmaus walks. A core group of volunteers serves St. Bernard’s Soup Kitchen and the church’s Tin Can offerings support other special needs groups.

In addition to the presentation of the church history, the 150th Anniversary Celebration Banquet included a welcome by Pastor Sue Platt, grace offered by Ministerial Association President Pastor Mike Potter, choir anthem under the direction of Jim Hart, remarks by Rev. Eugene Bacon, message by District Superintendent Rev. David Kim and several other presentations. Lay leader Jerry Broad gave the benediction.