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First United Methodist Church Celebrates 150 years

April 13, 2008
Story by Michael Gassett, Photos by Steve Muscatello
NEW ULM — In the spring of 1858, Henry Singestrue a Methodist missionary, made his way on horseback across the Ox Bow of the Minnesota River from LeSueur to New Ulm. A farmer by trade, he had felt called to do evangelistic work for the Methodist Church.

Singestrue had been converted a few years before while living in Cincinnati because Methodism was not a religion that German immigrants brought with them to the United States.

At New Ulm, Singestrue became a circuit rider, riding from one cabin to another conducting Bible studies and preaching when there were sufficient numbers. He had no home of his own in the beginning as his lodging and food were provided by the families visited on his journeys. Eventually it became custom for the church members to take turns boarding the preacher for six weeks at a time.

On May 5, 1858, Singestrue held his first service in the home of John Fenske, three miles west of New Ulm. This was followed by a similar one across the river in Lafayette Township. A few days after these first two meetings, Minnesota received word that the territory had become a state. Now Minnesota and the New Ulm Methodist Church celebrate their 150th birthday together.

The first trustees of the mission station at New Ulm were Michael Redmann, Christoph Schumann, Wilhelm Alwin and Christoff Gluth.

The Methodist Church has always been a Sunday School Church and it was one of the earliest activities in the area. In 1861, the Sunday School had 16 pupils, five teachers, a library of 90 volumes and four Sunday School papers. But concern was felt that there was a need of religious training for the older children.

For this reason, the need for a church building became evident. A collection was made throughout the mission district for money to build a church. Henry Schnitker, who succeeded Singestrue, collected the money and purchased Lot 14, Block 102, North of Center Street in New Ulm.

The building of the small log structure was begun early in 1862. The progress was slow because of lack of funds and the limited time of the church men, but it was the first church building to be built in the county by a permanent congregation.

During the Sioux uprising, the little church near completion, was destroyed when two-thirds of the town was burned. New Ulm, besieged and barricaded for a week, was finally evacuated and all the other settlers able to do so fled the region. It was not long before many of them returned and the period of the next four years was one of great hardship.

Collections for a new church, to take the place of the unfinished one destroyed, were finally started in 1865. The new church, erected in 1866, was a small brick veneer building with three windows on each side. It had a steeple and within it was the first chuch bell in town. The collections had been short $280 of the total cost of $2,343. The deficit was paid by Singestrue, who had returned to New Ulm in 1864. When he left again in 1867, there was still an unpaid balance of $50 due to him.

By January 1870, the pastor reported that he had visited 57 families. By this time there were 80 pupils in Sunday School, 15 teachers and 200 volumes in the library. The preacher’s salary had increased from $192 in 1860 to $541 10 years later.

In August of 1881 a cyclone destroyed the Methodist Church again. Once more, the preacher journeyed, collecting for a new church. Governor Pillsbury made the first donation of $25 for the cause. In all, $4,000 was collected in Iowa and Minnesota. The rebuilding of the church took place in the summer of 1882. The new church was dedicated in November of 1882 and was the third such church structure in 20 years. It stood on the corner of 3rd North Street and State Street.

In 1920 a significant event in the church’s history took place. Though it was still remaining within the Northern German Conference, the delivery of sermons was changed from German to English.

In 1924, the present church located on the corner of Broadway and Center Streets was built. In a 60-year period the Methodists in New Ulm had built four churches — one destroyed by the Indians, another destroyed by a cyclone and the third had been outgrown.

The American-Gothic structure cost $80,000 and through the Centenary movement — a nationwide Methodist building movement — the local congregation received $9,380 to assist in the building.

In 1939 the official designation for the church was “The First Methodist Church.” The congregation continued to prosper and grow. By 1956, the expanding church school made it necessary to consider the completion of unfinished space provided for future growth at the time of the church’s erection.

The plans were not to be carried out immediately, for in early October, 1956, Rev. G.A. Morrison died suddenly. For the next nine months, the congregation maintained the programs of the church, Sunday School and organizations without resident leadership.

Another eventful time came in 1968 when the Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church. This affected New Ulm because there was an EUB Church on First North and Washington. The two churches combined to become the First United Methodist Church. This was a nationwide action taken by the two denominations.

In 1978, the front of the church became the back of the church when parking was no longer allowed on both sides of Center and Broadway Streets and the middle of Center Street.

The change to the front of the church was made possible by the purchase and removal of two houses with the construction of a new entrance and parking lot. The church also has access to the New Ulm Public Library parking lot.

Today, April 13 is the official kick-off of the 150-year celebration and Bishop Sally Dyck will deliver the morning message. Special events are being planned for the next 150 days with the finale in September. Some of the events scheduled are: In June there will be an outdoor service and potluck at Hermann Heights. On July 27 there will be an open house and ice cream social. All former pastors and youth directors will be invited to attend. Aug. 24 will feature an outdoors service and picnic at Klossner Cemetary and the festivities will conclude Sept. 28 with a potluck and hymn sing.

Article Photos

First United Methodist Church is 150 years olf



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