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First United Methodist at 100: Celebration continues despite social distancing

  • Kathy Belcher is a Legacy 50-year Member of the First United Methodist Church in Chester.

    Kathy Belcher is a Legacy 50-year Member of the First United Methodist Church in Chester.
    Jim Beers photo

By Jim Beers
Contributing writer
updated: 4/28/2020 8:04 PM

The First United Methodist Church in Chester is celebrating its 100th year anniversary throughout 2020, and although the congregation can't worship together these days, they are staying close to the church and each other on Facebook or on the church website via prerecorded services.

In January the Church began celebrating its centennial in the church at 871 State St. in Chester. The congregation has been there since 1920 -- the cornerstone was laid July 11, 1920.

But Methodists have been worshipping in Chester since 1840. They met at several locations around town until 1920.

In late 2019 FUMC Worship Leader Vicky Beers announced that there would be a yearlong celebration throughout 2020 to commemorate the 100 year birthday of the church at State and Servant streets.

Church members volunteered to make special presentations throughout the year to help celebrate the church and bring back historical aspects of its evolution. The first presentation was held Jan. 26 with an overall history of the church from its early beginnings to its current status, presented by Lay Leader Gwendy Garner.

For the February presentation, Vicky Beers researched the history of the pastors who served FUMC throughout the last 100 years. Lifelong member and Legacy member Kathy Belcher presented that research at the 10 a.m. service on Feb. 23.

Methodist churches regularly rotate full-time pastors every three to five years. Methodist churches can also be served by a fully ordained part-time pastor, or part-time lay pastor. Over the past 100 years the church has welcomed 24 full-time pastors that served from 1920 till 2008, and seven part-time pastors who served from 2008 until the present.

"The United Methodist Church in Chester has been blessed with more than 25 Pastors in its 100 years of service," Belcher said. "These men and women of the cloth have served the Lord here in Chester and then moved on to other appointments elsewhere."

Vicky Beers offered four "fun facts" about four of the church's pastors in the early years prior to 1920.

• In 1874 the then-pastor is unknown, "because he has failed to ever sign his name to any of his work," she reported.

• In 1875, the Pastor was A.B. Rohrbaugh. But the Chester Public Schools also have him listed as the superintendent of schools.

• In 1911 the pastor was G.L. Schaeffer. He died in Chester while serving as pastor and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery beside his son.

• The Chester and Palestine Methodist churches were separated at the Annual Conference of 1908. Chester retained the pastor and a new pastor was assigned to the Palestine Church.

By mid-March, social distancing and the governor's stay-at-home order prevented in-house church services from taking place.

Until these restrictions are lifted, services can be attended online or on Facebook. Pastor Oppedal is available online; by phone or text at (618) 606-1519; at (618) 235-7343; or via Facebook.

The FUMC Worship Committee will continue to publish 100th anniversary celebratory articles in the coming months.

The church office remains operational from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Wednesday and Thursday, at (618) 826-2549. Call to leave messages or to find out information regarding church matters.