First United Methodist Church to celebrate 150 years on Sunday
“When you think of the time periods they came through — prohibition, women’s suffrage... — all those hotbed social issues way back then, this church walked through it like a lot of churches did.”
WORTHINGTON — Members of First United Methodist Church in downtown Worthington will celebrate a major milestone on Sunday. It was on May 21, 1873 — 150 years ago — that the church was incorporated.
Rev. Dr. Daren Flinck has served the congregation at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 11th Street for the past 11 years. He will retire next year after leading the local Methodist church for a dozen years, the longest tenure in the parish’s history. The retired Rev. Gordon Orde and his wife, Dorothy, will return to Worthington for Sunday’s celebration, and both Bishop Lanette Plambeck of the Minnesota/Dakota Conference and Rev. Dr. Fred Vanderwerf, district superintendent, will be in attendance.
Sunday’s celebration begins with a special fellowship hour at 9 a.m., with an all-church photo planned at 9:45 a.m. The photo is a tradition at the church, and Flinck said that back in the 1930s and 1940s, the congregation’s membership filled the city block in front of the church.
The worship service will begin at 10:30 a.m., with both the bell choir and chancel choir to perform special music. At noon, the congregation will gather for a catered meal, served by members of Westminster Presbyterian Church, who will celebrate their church’s 150th anniversary in September. First UMC members will reciprocate at that time, serving the meal for the Presbyterians.
During the meal there will be a short program, both of which will be in the fellowship hall.
“Anybody is welcome to come and join us for the 150th,” Flinck said.
Reservations are required, however, and may be made by calling the church at (507) 372-2939.
Church on a mission
First UMC has long focused on mission work, reaching out to the world in many different ways, said Flinck.
“I think that focus has held through the 150 years we’ve been together,” he shared. “The focus has always been on the strength of the laity and the people of the church — that’s still a very important part of the Methodist church today.”
First UMC member Nancy Galland, who is helping to coordinate Sunday’s celebration, said congregation members have T-shirts that say “Our church has left the building,” which are worn when they make visits to the nursing homes and do volunteerism in the community.
“That’s the essence of who we are,” Galland said.
Church members volunteer to deliver Mobile Meals in the community, assist at the food pantry, provide rides to and move furniture for people in need through Love INC (In the Name of Christ), serve a meal at The Banquet in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, each year, and graciously invite the public for cookies and hot chocolate following the annual Holiday Parade in downtown Worthington.
They also offer their space for the Worthington Area Symphony Orchestra to practice.
In the past, First UMC hosted Love INC’s Parade of Trees, fed thousands of hot turkey sandwiches on King Turkey Day and, for a couple of years, sent men to the Red River Valley to hand-pick imperfect potatoes to bring back and donate to the food pantry. The church also hosted a Christmas concert for many years, giving the proceeds to a local nonprofit such as Sunset Hospice Cottage.
“During COVID, when our young adults graduated from high school, a lot of us got into our cars and paraded to their homes and honked horns for the graduates,” Galland shared.
The church's firm foundation
According to Arthur P. Rose’s "An Illustrated History of Nobles County", members of the union church met for a year before deciding to organize a denominational body. Members of the union congregation who were “grounded in the faith of John Wesley banded themselves together and formed the first Methodist body in Nobles County.”
On May 21, 1873, a certificate was filed with the register of deeds in Nobles County in which Rev. B.H. Crever of the First Methodist Episcopal Church noted the appointment of individuals to the board of trustees. Members by the names of Humiston, Bigelow and Miller were among those listed.
The church had 30 charter members, noted Rose, and Crever served as pastor for two years. During the first year of the church’s existence, the congregation rented Miller Hall for its gathering place. They purchased the hall in 1874 and continued to meet there until the building was destroyed by fire in 1878.
“The loss of their place of worship was an almost insurmountable blow,” wrote Rose, but the local Presbyterians came forth and offered their church as a meeting place. The Methodists accepted the offer, and met at the Presbyterian church for several months before using space inside the Nobles County Courthouse, and then Bennett Hall (the Masonic building), before their own church was completed in 1882 at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street.
Twenty years later, with increased membership and wealth, a new, modern church was constructed at the corner of 11th Street and Fourth Avenue. That’s where it stands today, though the current church was constructed in the early 1960s.
“It’s a test of endurance, I think,” Flinck said of the 150th anniversary milestone. “When you think of the time periods they came through — Prohibition, women’s suffrage, the abuse of children in the workplace — all those hotbed social issues way back then, this church walked through it like a lot of churches did.”
During World War II, First Methodist Church had 132 men and 10 women in service from the congregation, with eight individuals lost to the war.
Through wars, racial tension, and civil unrest, Flinck said, “Somehow the church found a way to persevere.” He, too, served during a challenging period in world history — the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Every community has a great need for a faith community like First Church,” Flinck said.
And at the Worthington church, there are two faith communities. A year and a half ago, the church helped to establish Cristo En Tu Ayuda, a Spanish-language church with services led by Pastor Angel Franco and his wife, Lourdes. They, too, will be part of Sunday’s celebration.