First United Methodist Church Building Reaches Century | News
All of the historic church buildings have stories to tell.
The majestic three-story brick structure located at the corner of Southwest Second and Vine Streets in Walnut Ridge has hosted worship services, Sunday School, baptisms, confirmations, a children’s creche, choir practice, potlucks, weddings, funerals, fellowship, youth functions, mission fundraisers and more.
It even hosted the Arkansas Methodist Annual Conference twice: in 1923 and 1946.
Week after week for an entire century now, generations of local Methodists have let their Christian lives of faith and worship unfold within the strong masonry walls.
This year, the First United Methodist Church building has an anniversary story, and Reverend Beth Perdue says an official centennial commemoration event will be held on Sunday, December 5.
“The church is not a building, of course,” Reverend Perdue said. “But there are buildings and this one has been a real historic item in Walnut Ridge for generations of families. It is a story of countless joys, tears, prayers and acts of Christ-like love, faith, hope and compassion.
Designed in a classic architectural style of royal religiosity, worshipers ascend a double staircase to reach the main entrance. Towering stained glass windows shape the light in the soaring sanctuary, depicting biblical symbols and pictorial scenes and lifting minds and eyes upward to gaze at the ornate, ornate cornice and tin moldings of the high ceiling.
There is no steeple or belfry, but the choir has long welcomed members to make joyful noises to the Lord. The rear stairs leading to the balcony above and the basement below feature arched doorways, delicately detailed pewter crown molding and soaring windows of beautiful stained glass nestled along the narrow passageways.
The well-worn wooden pews were custom-built for the church, and the framed stained-glass window at the rear of the sanctuary once adorned the upper part of the chancel and had languished for decades in a storage room on the front floor of the church. to be returned to active service in its new location two years ago.
History and renovations
Prior to its construction in 1921, Walnut Ridge Methodists occupied a one-room white frame building that had been erected in 1886 near the corner of East Walnut and Northeast Fourth Streets. At the time the new church was built, it was one of the largest in the state. The cost was $60,000, partially offset by the sale of the old church property, and the remaining mortgage debt was paid off in 1941.
The cornerstone lists the building committee in “AD 1921”, and it contains fundamental names still familiar today: PJ Cooper, HV Wayland, SE Spikes, WO Sexton, CS Henderson, Earl Mitchell, PC Surridge, JC Pinnell, Walter Southworth and John M. Lester.
A century-old building usually undergoes overhauls and upgrades, and the First United Methodist Church is no exception. The dramatic windows that adorn the front and sides of the building – believed to have been imported from France, the handwork of the stained glass has a decidedly ‘old world’ quality – have been re-sealed and are now protected from the elements by exterior panels flat glass.
The wiring of the 1920s would have been knob and tube, and has long since been replaced by modern electrical conduit and technology.
In addition to the existing rear balcony, the sanctuary was originally flanked by side balconies, which were removed during a renovation in 1967. At this time, the main entrance was also modified, enclosing the round columns and moving the doors outward in line with the new square colonnade to create a larger vestibule area. The long single staircase was also transformed into the double-sided staircase that it presents today.
A major renovation a dozen years later, in 1979, included the refurbishment of classrooms, Wesley Hall and the installation of a new roof, as well as fire escapes and an elevator, to allow better access members at the main levels of the structure. The Wesley Hall, a separate structure at the rear of the property, was also renovated two years ago.
A great danger to historic structures is fire, and the Methodist Church survived a horrific incident in May 1996, when a butane gas tank malfunctioned and burst into flames while preparing for a blood drive. pancake breakfast fund for the Kiwanis club. The ensuing fire destroyed the kitchen and part of the community hall, seriously injured two volunteers and caused extensive smoke damage to the rest of the building.
The major restoration effort involved installing new electrical wiring, HVAC equipment, and duct work, in addition to cleaning every window and door on all three floors. The church did not reopen until February 1997.
On December 5, the church invites anyone who wants to help commemorate the centenary of the building to a Sunday celebration. Former pastors and members, as well as members who have become pastors, are expected.
Current Arkansas Conference Bishop, Rev. Gary E. Mueller, will be on hand to deliver the message. The Reverend John Fleming, Superintendent of the Northeast District, is also expected to attend. Together, the bishop and DS will preside over the Holy Communion of the congregation and the guests.
There will also be special music selections, a slideshow and maybe a few surprises, Reverend Perdue said.
After the service, the afternoon agenda includes lunch downstairs which will feature more fellowship and many more memories.
“So many people have so many memories of this great old church building,” Reverend Perdue said. “We would like to invite anyone with a fond memory to join us for lunch and sharing in the celebration.”
More stories to come
As the building enters its second century, First United Methodist Church looks forward to continuing its role as one of the largest and historic Methodist congregations in Lawrence County, with many stories yet to be told.
“We had eight confirmation attendees earlier this year, which is impressive for a church of our size,” Rev. Perdue said. “And despite all the Covid-related disruptions, interruptions and conveniences, we have organized services and continue to minister.
“We have also carried out various improvements and projects – and have more planned – to ensure that our historic church will not only stand for decades to come, but will continue to improve to serve Methodists in the 21st century. “, she said.