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Our History

TRINITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH: A NARRATIVE HISTORY

By Jerry Bower, Lay Leader

                  In 1848 Wisconsin entered the Union.  That same year Reverend Nathaniel Wheeler, an experienced Methodist circuit rider, settled in Sextonville.  Besides Sextonville, Rev. Wheeler soon organized Methodist classes in several communities: Neptune, Ash Creek, Willow Creek, Richland City, and Richland Center.  The Methodist class was the basic unit of the frontier church.  Each class had up to 12 members and a class leader, appointed by the circuit-riding minister, presided.  The classes met separately mid-week and together on those Sundays, when the circuit rider would not be present, for worship.  When a community had enough classes to support a resident pastor, a congregation was created.

In Richland Center, that occurred on 18 November 1855, when a quarterly conference acted to create the First Methodist Episcopal Church.  Reverend Alfred Brunson, District Superintendent from Prairie du Chien, presided.  The congregation numbered just 24 members but their choice of a name signals clearly that they believed both Methodism and Richland Center would grow.  Reverend Wheeler moved to other charges in 1856 and was succeeded by other circuit riders, who maintained the Sextonville Circuit of six congregations.

While the Methodists were the first to organize a church in Richland Center, the Presbyterians, in the winter of 1857-58, were the first to build a church.  The Presbyterians generously shared their small frame sanctuary with both the Methodists and Baptists.  Scheduling the services must have been a difficult task because the schedule depended upon a circuit rider’s arrival.  The three congregations conducted a union/joint Sunday School.

In 1865, the last year of the Civil War, the First Methodist Trustees proposed construction of a 36’ X 40’ brick church.  The congregation voted unanimously to proceed, but the brick church was not built.  The recession that followed the end of the Civil War no doubt explains the shortage of money to proceed.

However, in May 1867, the Trustees purchased a lot, for $45.00, on the corner of Mill and Park Streets.  Five years later the Methodists erected a white frame church on the lot.  Once in their own sanctuary, they began a campaign to become a “station,” which would mean they would have a resident minister and formal worship every Sunday.  Eight years later, in 1875, their request was granted.  The congregation numbered 75 full members and 11 probationers.

In 1898 the Methodists extensively remodeled their church.  The sanctuary was turned 180 degrees and the entrance now faced the corner of Mill and Park Streets.  Rooms were added for Sunday School classes, a choir loft was built, and brick was added to the exterior, finally carrying out a proposal made in 1865.  This church still stands at the corner of Mill and Park Streets, although it is no longer used for religious purposes.

The large issues of the post-Civil War era were reconstruction of the Union, woman’s suffrage, and temperance.  The Richland Center Methodists were actively involved in the local and state woman suffrage and temperance movements.  A few Methodist ladies were among the charter members of the Woman’s Club, the first woman’s suffrage club organized in Wisconsin.  In the early 1880s, the citizens of the village began to vote annually on the “license or no license” issue.  The Methodists, who did not indulge in ardent spirits, were in the forefront of the “no license” contingent.  During 1882-1883, several temperance sermons were delivered from First Methodist’s pulpit and over 200 signed a temperance pledge.

Eventually, some of the more rabid members of the pro license crowd took note of the Methodists activities.  Sunday, 18 January 1901, an outstanding fire and brimstone temperance preacher from Madison roundly condemned the supporters of saloons.  The following Tuesday, 20 January, about 9:00 PM., a tremendous blast shook the Methodist Church and shattered windows in homes for a block in every direction.  Investigation revealed that someone had pried boards off of the front steps and had lit several sticks of dynamite.  Evidently, the objective was to bring down the bell tower, along with severely damaging the entire structure.  Thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit, damage was minimal.  Every church window was shattered but structural damage was limited to a cracked foundation near the blast site.  Despite an eventual reward of $400.00, no culprits were arrested, although there were lots of rumors about who was responsible.  The drys prevailed in the 1908 referendum and Richland Center, thereafter, remained “no License” for almost 80 years.

By the 1940s the First Methodist congregation was stretching the capacity of the church.  The Sunday School, especially, needed more space.  The Sunday School, in 1945, had 175 children enrolled, with an average attendance of 90.  The congregation was approaching 300 members.  Consequently, in July 1946, the Methodists voted to raise $25,000.00 for a building fund.  However, the implementation of a building program took almost a decade.

In 1951, the congregation’s number surged past 400, with almost 200 attending Sunday worship.  During 1952 the Trustees renewed the pledge to build a new sanctuary.  To that end, in April 1952, They purchased, for $20,000.00, a large lot on the corner of Seminary and Sheldon Streets.  The Virginian Apartments, which stood on the lot, was offered for sale, to be removed.  When there were no takers, the furnishings were sold at auction and the building was bulldozed.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place in May 1953.  Just thirteen months later, the first worship service was held in the almost completed sanctuary.  At the same time, the congregation was discussing a new name.  By this time it was clear that no “Second Methodist” would be built in Richland Center.  The Church Council proposed three names—Grace, Asbury, and Trinity.  Obviously, Trinity was chosen in the balloting.  Ten years later, Trinity constructed an education wing on the east side because, once again, The Sunday School had outgrown its space.

In 1968, in an event called “The Merger in Dallas,” the Methodist Episcopal and the Evangelical United Brethren joined together to create today’s United Methodist Churches.  The merger brought together several branches of the Wesleyan Movement in the United States.  Many years before, in 1939, a merger had brought together the Methodist Episcopal, Methodist Protestant, and the Methodist Church, South.  The latter had split from the MEC , in 1844, over the slavery issue.  On the other side, the Evangelical Brethren and the United Brethren, both Wesleyan Churches that had originally used the German language, joined together in 1946 to become the Evangelical United Brethren.  The new United Methodist Church contained eleven million members.

The Richland Center Methodists always put their faith into action at the local, national, and international levels.  Today, Trinity’s Missions Committee leads the congregation each month in choosing a mission emphasis.  The fourth Sunday of each month is “Mission Sunday” and members are invited to support that month’s mission project.  During recent years, Trinity members have backed many local mission projects—Passages, Lydia’s House, the Community Free Clinic, and the Richland Community Food Pantry.  State and national mission efforts have included Native American Sunday, Golden  Cross Sunday, One Great Hour of Sharing, Peace With Justice, and Human Relations Day.  Our international missions include annual support, through our Harvest Auction, of the Gablers, a missionary couple serving in Africa.  Beginning in 2013, Trinity and Peace have sponsored a mission trip to Honduras.  Come, join us in supporting God’s people and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.  James 2:14-17 summarizes our obligation to put our faith into action.

 

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but

has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or

a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to

him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does

nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same

 way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”