The Family History of Christ United Methodist Church
This is our family story. We date from a set of marriages, from many births.
We became Christ United Methodist Church on June 1, 1969. That is when First United Methodist Church, at 301 Wooster St., from an English-language origin, merged with across-the-street neighbor Trinity United Methodist Church, of 300 Wooster St., that had arisen from a German-American track. Our Christ United Methodist name was the brand new label selected by those separate groups to represent their new marriage together.
That local merger also closely followed a bigger denominational marriage: On April 23, 1968, just a few months before our own, the English-track Methodist Episcopal denomination in America had merged with the German-American-heritage Evangelical United Brethren in America denomination, to form the new United Methodist Church denomination. EUB had itself been a 1946 merger and renaming of two earlier German-American denominations, whose founders are now considered forefathers of ours, too. Toward this blending, today’s United Methodist logo of cross and flame was created in that 1968 marriage year. The two-pronged flame represents not just Pentecost but the particular English and German heritages of that braided together into one joint strength.
All current Methodist churches in the Marietta area came into our existing denominational umbrella from one of those English or German strands, but each did so slightly differently: Some, like the English half of ourselves or Gilman United Methodist or Norwood United Methodist came from some point on the English track from their starts, while some like Faith United Methodist merged in from the EUB side, while some like Trinity evolved first as a German-language mission of the English Methodists, and later (1853) had their own German-language conference parallel to the English language conference. Those parallel conferences lasted until 1933. But even once those blended, our two 300/301 Wooster St. churches remained separate congregations for another thirty years, even while sharing both a conference and a city street block. But, over time, they agreed to become a totally new thing together that we chose together. Our local merger was celebrated at the time with a street fair in the middle of Wooster Street. And more church cousins across the city began getting to know each other in new ways, and still work as an extended family of different but related households.
Like all new transitions or inter-generational family gatherings, there were adjustments, inventions, surprises, things to figure out, passings, arrivals – then and onward, at local and denominational and cousin levels.
Locally, for instance, our new marriage’s household combining took time. One major milestone in that was in August, 1986, Christ United Methodist sold the former Trinity Methodist building, and all of our congregational activity became newly fully consolidated within one physical plant, at 301 Wooster. The change, however, did not mean all of the uniqueness and value of Trinity was to dissolve as irrelevant, even into the future, but meant we had to figure out how to collectively honor and balance differently, including to share that with and make room for the belongings or needs of new arrivers. We are still at that – on that topic or others as they also get carried forward or newly arise and mix people.
We are proud of our “figuring it out together” approach, and call it “Christian Conferencing.” Among things we’re still figuring out is how best to handle, just for instance, the volume of church records that are written in old German script. It is a dual problem: Not only is it not English, which at least most of us would understand, but it also is not even modern German, so very few Germans, even, can understand it. So we are working with specialists to preserve the originals and their story in places that can help most on the fragility and translation of them while we work with still-living Trinity members or other sources to capture the meaning and continuing application of them. Which is what we try to do on other topics and themes and cultural differences as well. We are continuing to cross generations, cultures, preferences, but some core values and beliefs that link us.
We also are unique locally in having a very historic, pioneering past. While we were not the very first church founded in Marietta (which was today’s First Congregational on Front Street, of 1796), our local congregational roots on the English side are clearly among the earliest in town – depending on whose particular milestone source or emphasis is being counted. A historic marker outside our building, on the Third Street side, points to the 1799 date of the earliest known part of that. That also was, for its time, the most westward frontier vanguard of the initial import to America of Methodism at all. But, precisely because we were such a frontiering “church,” the actual defining of that start is very fuzzy, until the first English Methodist church building was actually built, which opened in 1815, on an exact date no one ever preserved for us.
(Meanwhile our German track also was early for any German vanguard here, 1839, and was a spin-off group from Marietta’s first formalized German Protestant church, now called St. Paul’s Evangelical Church at Fifth and Scammel by Mound Cemetery. In its founding era, however, German Protestants of all kinds gathered in it, as an interdenominational group. So, it wasn’t a stretch for a Methodist-oriented subgroup of that German church to switch affiliations to the English Methodists, but again as a distinctly German subgroup that tracked differently from their hosting English. That group called itself the German Methodist Episcopal Church and later renamed itself as Trinity Methodist Episcopal, and then Trinity United Methodist, just before our final merger.)
Notably, our local marriages story shows our English and German tracks have two church buildings in common, our first and our last: We obviously share our current common one, but, historically, we also shared the first building used by either track. That building (at 411-413 Second, later replaced by other businesses) first belonged to the English Methodists, who then sold it in 1841 to the German Methodists, who had begun meeting there in 1839.
(The second English church was called the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church, as its 1841 opening was about the time of world Methodism’s centennial in 1838.)
Then, a few decades later, the Germans built their second church at 300 Wooster in 1878, followed by the English planting their third church across the street in 1885. And then they merged gradually from 1969’s legal union to 1986 into the consolidated congregation of today, where we continue to honor and work out as family what we can for the best of all.
(Rev. 16 April 2016, by Church Historian Sue Smith)