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Just A Thought or Two: Forward First

Forward First


Our story in Bloomington, as Methodists, doesn’t begin with a log cabin (or any kind of a building for that matter), but it begins with a love (faith) story. You may be shocked to know the Bible verse that was the text for the first sermon preached here in 1816 by Reverend Daniel Anderson. What was it?

As the apple tree among the trees of the wood

Methodist circuit riders were men on horseback who rode from place to place along the frontier, full of faith in the life-giving power of God’s love in Jesus. They were tough, usually young (most of them were worn out or dead within seven years after starting as Methodist preachers on a circuit), extraordinarily courageous, almost always single, and passionate about Jesus and reaching people with God’s Good News. In 1816 a circuit rider named Daniel Anderson preached to a group of Methodists meeting in a log cabin in the village of Bloomington.

The text he chose for his first sermon was, surprisingly enough, from the Hebrew epic love poem we know as the Song of Solomon! The text for the first Methodist sermon in Bloomington was this: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”

I’d love to ask Brother Anderson why he chose that text. Maybe he was calling those early Methodists in Bloomington to bear fruit. Feed people with the hope and truth only God can provide. Or perhaps the preacher was saying that to be in the presence of the Galilean, to do life with Jesus, is like being in the presence of the one whose love delights you.

In another surprise, the young, growing Methodist congregation chose to use red apples as their congregational symbol! Brother Anderson, by the way, was paid in “homemade socks and jeans.” (Some of our current members remember when apples were used in worship and Sunday School as symbols of our mission to the world.)

The congregation started out in a log cabin but that didn’t last long. They needed someplace larger.

An argument over logs and heat

People were ready to replace the log cabin where they had been meeting with a log cabin church. At the last minute a newcomer to the congregation, who had just arrived from Kentucky, said they should build a wood frame building. Members of the congregation divided up on either side of the debate (pro log church vs. pro wood frame church), but then the newcomer—Joshua O. Howe—offered to pay for most of the cost of building the wood frame church. He thought the Methodists deserved a better place, our history says. (I wonder if he believed the Methodists deserved a better place or if God deserved a better house?)

A few years later the congregation argued over whether or not to put a stove in the church building. Some people thought the fireplace was okay. Just like some people had thought a log cabin would have been okay. But a church member, on a visit to Louisville, had seen a wood stove and he thought having a stove would be a good thing in those long, Indiana winters.

Some members of the church thought “the Lord would provide sufficient heat for those who worshipped with the proper spirit.” (Note: This is from our congregational history – I’m not making this up!)

 The stove debate ended with the fireplace being replaced by the new technology of an actual stove. Just like the log cabin debate ended with the construction of the frame church. Eventually, though, even the wood frame church outlived its usefulness. It just didn’t work as well as it once had for those Methodists

Looking forward: from wood to brick

The wood frame church was followed by a two-story brick building that was finished in 1843. That building served the growing congregation for 36 years. The last couple of years it must have deteriorated because by 1879 the “trustees declared it unsafe for public use.” (Why didn’t they repair and maintain it as they went along, I wonder.) The congregation, because of the unsafe building, then met in several different places including the Courthouse, Mendelssohn Hall, and the chapel on the campus of Indiana University.

Six months after the congregation was forced to leave the old building, a new building was dedicated on August 15, 1880. The sanctuary on the second floor held 600 worshippers (actually more than our present day sanctuary).

Our congregation, then known as College Avenue Methodist, used that third building until 1910 when it was sold to the Bloomington Armory Association. Guess what they did with the sanctuary? It was converted into a basketball gymnasium!

Ground was broken on a new building at 4th and Washington in March of 1909. That building had a sanctuary where the pews were arranged in a clamshell design (also called the Dayton Plan). Made of Oolitic limestone, the building caught fire and burned in 1937.

The building was rebuilt but church members decided to shift the sanctuary seating to the arrangement we know today, and the location of the pulpit was moved to the other side of the room.

Why are we talking about buildings?

Forward first

Our story as a congregation isn’t about log cabins, wood frame buildings, brick and limestone. The real story of our church is a story of lives blessed, strangers welcomed, children and adults being baptized, college students being served, a wider community and world blessed.

But the buildings are evidence of a congregation that was forward looking. Over and over again the leaders and members of College Avenue Methodist (later First Methodist Episcopal Church and now First United Methodist) resisted the temptation to relive the past at the expense of moving into the future.

We did, though, squabble with one another over building decisions (log cabin or frame construction, fireplace or stove, etc.) and one generation did let the building deteriorate until it was no longer safe to use. But, eventually, the church looked forward.

When God was best served by something larger than a log cabin, a wood frame building was constructed. When that had served its useful life, a brick building went up. And that was followed by a limestone building. When a new generation decided to stay in downtown Bloomington, the congregation built the current Wesley Wing (east end of the building) in 1999.

It’s not about buildings but it is about a faith that courageously is forward looking.

So why the history lesson?

It’s time to look forward – again!

One of the recommendations voted on by our church members in December of 2014 was a proposal that we have a team study our facilities and explore options for looking forward. A committee was formed, architects and engineers studied our building (supported by a grant from the Center for Congregations), and a report was made to the congregation. We learned that the old section of our building is in need of major repairs which will cost between $2.5-3.2 million.

Now, after talking with more than 15 different groups in our congregation and receiving input from scores of church members and leaders, our Building Committee has some ideas they want to share with you. Our Church Council has already heard this exciting presentation, but the entire congregation will now have the opportunity to hear these plans.

June 12 and 15th

Two identical presentations will be held. One will be on Sunday, June 12th, at 10:30 a.m. in the Great Hall. (Open Door attenders may want to come to the Building Committee presentation before heading to worship, and Sanctuary attenders will come after going to worship.) The second presentation will be on the evening of June 15th, a Wednesday, at 7 p.m. in the Great Hall.

Major elements include:

  • A central, main entrance off 4th street near the labyrinth.
  • A main staircase up around the Atrium entrance to the Gathering Place.
  • Expansion of the Gathering Place to handle larger groups.
  • Reorienting the Sanctuary 180 degrees so the pulpit and chancel would be in the west end of the room. The room would have an expanded balcony.
  • Renovation of the ground-floor Fellowship Hall.
  • Repurposing of the Great Hall for youth ministries.
  • Moving the Childcare area closer to the Sanctuary.
  • Moving the choir room closer to the Sanctuary and Chancel.
  • Glass doors on the east end of the Sanctuary so worshippers can see into the space as they approach down the hallways.
  • Enhanced security for the Pre-School and Sunday School areas.
  • A stairway that would allow people to walk directly into the church offices from the street level.

God speaks through the prophet, Isaiah, in 42:9, to say this to God’s people: “I’m declaring new things. Before they even appear, I tell you about them.” Just one chapter later, in 43:19, God speaks to a people who feel overwhelmed by the current challenges and says: “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.”

We are a people who have always looked forward. We are a congregation that has, again and again, stepped out in faith in response to the call to serve God.

It’s time to look forward again!


Join us this Sunday, in a Jesus community where all are loved and welcomed, as we continue our series FOLLOW THE LEADER. Invite a friend to join you.

Remember our Summer Worship Schedule begins this weekend: the Sanctuary service is at 9:30 a.m. and The Open Door community of First Methodist Church gathers at 11:15 a.m.

Also, please remember our Red Cross Blood Drive this Sunday.

Grace and peace,


Join us this Sunday, in a Jesus community where all are loved and welcomed, as we continue our series FOLLOW THE LEADER. Invite a friend to join you.




UMC General Conference news

Nearly one thousand UM delegates from around the world have been meeting in Portland, Oregon for the once-every-four-years General Conference. This is the highest decision-making body for the 11-million member denomination.

If you want to get more information you can go to www.umc.org/topics/generalconference-2016.


A Building Vision


Late in 2014 our congregation voted to undertake a comprehensive building study and explore possible solutions to challenges presented by our current facility.

Late in 2015 we received a report on needed structural repairs (estimated cost between $2.8 and $3.5 million).

Now, we have the opportunity to see some exciting possibilities about the building and ways it can be a ministry asset to future generations.

Join us in the Great Hall on Sunday, June 12th at 10:30 a.m. or Wednesday, June 15th at 7:00 p.m. for a report (with virtual fly-through tour of some elements of the possible redesigned building) by architects Kevin Stuckwisch & Mary Krupinski.

We encourage you to come and join the conversation!


First Methodist