First United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th AnniversaryFirst United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th AnniversaryFirst United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th AnniversaryFirst United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th AnniversaryFirst United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th AnniversaryFirst United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th AnniversaryFirst United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th Anniversary
First United Methodist Church of Arlington Celebrates 140th Anniversary
By Mark Fadden
Posted on May 21, 2018, May 21, 2018

Sunday was an extra special day for the congregation at First United Methodist Church of Arlington, which celebrated the Downtown church's 140th anniversary.

In 1878, a group of Methodists met in the Shults' lumberyard at Mesquite and Front streets and organized the first church in Arlington's original township. The Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church South, Arlington's first brick church, was built where First United Methodist Church's Vandergriff Chapel, built in 1965, is now located. Today, the FUMC of Arlington fills an entire block of Downtown Arlington at the corner of Division and Center streets.

"We've had a couple fires destroy the sanctuary over the years and every once in a while there were thoughts of relocating out of Downtown to get more space. But we've prospered here. This spot is home," long-time member Sharon Clements said.

A Downtown church

Over its impressive 140 year history, generations of FUMC members have given back so much to the Arlington community.

"Thirty one schools in Arlington are named for church members," said Barbara Armstrong, who serves on the church's historical committee.

Families with names that are synonymous with Arlington, like Ditto and Cooper, have been members of FUMC over the years. But it's not just the famous families that make FUMC the close-knit church that is one of Arlington's bedrock community groups.

"Our church has many ties to the Arlington community, both through its members - some of our families have been here for multiple generations - and through our missions and outreach," said Director of Communication Mary Gibson. "Our members contribute and volunteer at many local institutions."

That includes the Life Shelter, Big Hope mentoring, Meals on Wheels, and many more, Gibson said. The Arlington Rotary Club has met at the church since organizing in 1923, and two local Kiwanis chapters meet there as well. Community outreach events through the year include an annual Book Carnival, where more than 5,000 books are distributed, as well as summer camps, Trunk or Treat, and an annual Egg Hunt, she said.

Embracing change

In order to support younger members and attract new ones, which are the life-blood of any membership organization, groups like FUMC must focus on providing the kinds of services that people want today. Church leaders said they know that they must continue to evolve with the cultural changes that are happening around them.

"This was the first church in Arlington, so there's definitely that sense of history and place," said Assistant Youth Director Brittany Bright. "But we're also trying to give our 4,000-plus members and visitors what they want, and that's a church that's authentic, not hypocritical. It's a place where we can have open, honest conversations and not shy away from hard conversations about the kinds of struggles that people, even pastors, deal with."

Beyond being more transparent, FUMC is also embracing UTA as it continues to grow and maintain a larger presence in the heart of Arlington, as well as another growing segment in their neighborhood with open arms.

"We started the La Jornada service, which translates into "The Journey", for our Hispanic members and guests. It has really grown to be one of our most popular services," said James Martin, who serves on the Youth Committee.

A place for the community built by the community; through it all, that's what FUMC has been known as all these years.

"Our church has been key in the creation of ecumenical ministries such as Arlington Urban Ministries and the annual Martin Luther King Worship Service. It has been a longtime supporter of the Arlington Life Shelter and the chaplaincy program at Arlington Memorial Hospital," said Kay Lancaster, Associate Pastor of Discipleship. "We have recently adopted Webb Elementary, where we already have a presence with the Big Hope Mentoring program. When our congregation learns of a need, we are blessed to be able to find teams willing to address those needs."

But beyond all that the church does in the community, perhaps it all boils down to the experience that folks get when they step onto the FUMC grounds for the first time.

"Whether they're here for the first time as a visitor, or they've grown up here and have been a member for decades, someone should have welcomed you here," said long-time member and Church Historian Billie Liddell. "You should feel the love that the church has for you and for each other in your heart."

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