First United Methodist Church is celebrating its bicentennial throughout this year, with activities including tours at its original downtown sites and the Windrow Campground, where a revival once broke out in Rutherford County.
“Two-hundred years is an extremely significant moment in the life of any church,” said the Rev. Dr. Drew Shelley, the church’s senior pastor. “We will remember so many good things God has done in this church, this community and this region.”
One of the key helpers in the celebrations, Shelley said, is church member John Sallee, who serves as an historian. Sallee said he became connected with the church when he attended a Vacation Bible School sometime around 1943. He was baptized in 1952.
Additional anniversary organizers include Emily Zietz, Rufus Walsh, Evelyn Hicks and Brooks Harrison.
The anniversary ceremonies began in January with a gathering of previous pastors in one service, Shelley said. The celebrations will conclude on Sept. 27, the actual founding date.
Speakers at the January service traced the church’s history to the Methodist Campgrounds in the Windrow community, where circuit rider-preachers held religious services 200 years ago when this area was a frontier, Sallee said.
The current building on West Thompson Lane may have been dedicated in 2003, but it is full of mementos from throughout the years, including a pulpit made around 1892 by Robert M. Sanders, the same man who built the historic pulpit at Bethel UMC in Leanna.
The 2003 building became possible through a gift by the late Richard Siegel, for whom many North Murfreesboro landmarks are named.
Siegel began attending First UMC late in his life and donated 20 acres and $1 million for the current building on West Thompson, Zietz said. The church runs Siegel’s foundation to provide scholarships and grants to schools and other organizations for education and recreation.
The anniversary organizers have been in contact with the developers of One East College to eventually obtain two cornerstones, including a 1910 cornerstone from the North Church Street education building. Sallee said he led an effort in 2010 to retrieve the bell from the previous building and place it on display in the current building. Video of the retrieval is available to watch on YouTube by searching for “FUMC 2010 bell project.”
On three dates in May, bus tours will leave from the current church and drive to the old church sites downtown. The tours are free and open to the public. Those church sites date to 1823, 1843 and 1888, the last of which is the building that is about to be converted into a mixed-use project called One East College. The church building, on North Church Street, is being preserved and reused, but the education annex will be demolished so other structures can be built.
The bus tours will finish back at the current church on West Thompson, where snacks will be available, the organizers said.
Another field trip will be held in the Windrow community.
The Windrow Campground revival meetings in September 1820 led to the formation of a “Murfreesboro Methodist society” in which hundreds were baptized, according to a book that church members are writing about their congregation’s history. First UMC was formed as a result of the meetings.
First UMC over the years helped plant other churches, including Key Memorial, St. Marks, Trinity and Fellowship, plus Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the organizers said.
The Windrow meetings were part of a “Western Revival” series of camp meetings beginning around 1800 in newly settled areas, according to the book. The Nashville District of the Tennessee Conference was in place when John Windrow donated four acres in 1812 for the campground. Meetings were held there until 1861, then stopped for the Civil War and resumed briefly afterward.
Several church members recently toured Windrow Campground, where they spoke with Wayne Windrow, a seventh-generation descendent of John Windrow who lived in a plantation house across from the campground and Windrow Church.
Tours are not the only events being planned.
Other events happening throughout the year include: the installation of a 24-foot mural highlighting the church’s history; the writing of a special hymn and anthem; and the distribution of anniversary edition car magnets.
The church added a new worship service time — Thursdays at 7 p.m. — a couple of weeks ago.
Local missions work is another priority, the organizers said. The church hosts Stepping Stones Safe Haven’s homeless clients two nights a month.
Also, the membership felt called to build a house for a local family, and so on Christmas Eve they took up an offering that raised $80,000, Shelley and Zietz said. They said Missioners Director Josh Markham plans to start building the house this spring, and more details will be announced soon.
“The next 200 years will have some exciting things,” Shelley said. “God is at work here. God is still at work.”