Glimpses of the past that shaped our witness

October 27, 2011

These days people may be able to choose from more than one United Methodist church within driving distance.

But a hundred or so years ago, when people of European, African, and Asian descent were just starting to move into the Minnesota area, forming congregations entailed special challenges. What sacrifices did those early Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren make so we can enjoy our choices of United Methodist churches today?

Two history events this year gave a taste of those early years and how they shaped our present faith communities.

The North Central Jurisdictional Convocation on Archives and History, held in Winona, July 11-14, provided a sense of the context in which United Methodism entered through what is now the southeast corner of our state.

During a tour offered at the convocation, many of us climbed the spiral stairs to Central United Methodist Church’s carillon to observe it in action. A few tried their hands at playing it! We saw in a short video of Central’s history some footage of the 1961 fire that destroyed much of their building. Fortunately, the tower and carillon were saved.

Churches form in community contexts. We stopped by the Winona County Historical Society to learn from Director Mark Peterson about that county’s history. And while there we got a sense of how fires were vanquished in the early 20th century, as we watched the Winona Fire Department’s 1904 horse-drawn fire steam-engine pump wagon be delivered to the museum.

It is people who build communities, and cemeteries help us remember them. The Friends of the Old Prairieville Cemetery in Rice County told us how volunteers have raised and restored the stones in this burial ground, which once lay beside the Old Prairieville Methodist Episcopal Church from 1860 to 1909. See more of their story at

A bus tour highlighted churches of Southern Minnesota with stops at Lenora, for worship; Newburg, for a Norwegian meatball dinner; Portland Prairie, for refreshments under the cemetery’s shady trees, and Money Creek. We sang hymns as we gathered in each place.

We also learned about the first Finnish Methodist church in the United States, First Finnish Methodist Church in Salem, near Moose Lake.

Moving up north

Several boarded buses again, this time up north for a Methodist History Tour of Duluth on Oct. 1, sponsored by the United Methodist Historical Society of Minnesota.

Wisconsin Conference ministers brought Methodism into the northern Minnesota area in the 1840s. They approached Duluth by water across Lake Superior, we learned, because there were very few roads. They started a Methodist Mission School at Fond du Lac in 1841.

A number of different bodies are forerunners to (or related to) what is now the United Methodist Church. Among those early congregations in the Duluth area were Harvey Webb Methodist Episcopal Church (1910-1958), Riverview Methodist Church (1957-2004), and Gary Methodist Episcopal Church (1910-1930). At Asbury United Methodist Church we learned about Central and Merritt Methodist Episcopal churches.

Also on our tour were Bethany (1909-1989), Second Swedish, Wesley Methodist (1883-2002), St. Mark’s African Methodist (1900-present) and the German Methodist church (1888-1925).

First United Methodist in Duluth remains a strong faith community. Part of their history includes a sad story of the three Halverson boys, who were swept into Lake Superior and were never found. The Three Brothers Chapel was built in their memory.

The tour continued with stops at Endion Methodist Episcopal Church (1902-1966) and Chester Park United Methodist Church, which was an EUB congregation (1928-present).

After returning to Hope United Methodist Church, some of us continued the tour at Glensheen, the home of Chester and Clara Congdon, who were lifelong Methodists.

These visits enriched our appreciation of those who came before us to establish our United Methodist witness--which blesses not only Minnesota but the world (through our support of international mission work).

Kathy Johnson ( is archivist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404

(612) 870-0058