HISTORY OF FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH OF WEST ALLIS
John Wesley defined “Methodists” as “a people who profess to pursue holiness of heart and life, inward and outward conformity in all things to the revealed will of God; who place religion in a uniform resemblance of the great object of it; in a steady imitation of Him they worship, in all his imitable perfections; more particularly, in justice, mercy, and truth, or universal love filling the heart and governing the life.”
Methodism dates back to 1736 when two brothers, John and Charles Wesley, launched this great movement in England. They were Church of England priests who were passionate about spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ far and wide around the globe, with a vision statement, “The world is my parish.” The goal of Methodism from early on was to “reform the nation, particularly the church and to spread scriptural holiness over land.” John commissioned many lay missionaries or preachers to migrate to America.
In particular, two lay preachers, Richard and Francis Asbury, were sent in 1771. Asbury became the most important figure in early Methodism in America. He was full of energy and passion in preaching but also shaped the organization of Methodism in America in ways that caused tremendous growth throughout the land.
Francis Asbury communicated his vision for Methodism in America in four lasting ways. Firstly, he promoted piety with perseverance, with biblical reference, “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Secondly, he connected with all people, especially with ordinary people. He focused on demonstrating building relationships in and through small groups. Thirdly, Asbury used the popular culture to invite people into relationships with God and people. For example, he promoted camp meetings to address social issues such as slavery in those days. Fourthly, he organized Methodism around conferences with a system in place for all ministries. Asbury understood what it meant to be a church with piety, connection, cultural awareness and effective organization.
In January of 1837, Methodism came to the city of Milwaukee with the first worship service held at Dr. Enoch Chase’s, (a medical doctor) log cabin. In 1842, the first Methodist class was organized by Rev. Silas Bolles, also known as the “weeping prophet.” Rev. William Wallace Johnson received God’s call and became an ordained minister of the gospel in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1859. God continued to call visionaries and pioneers to plant the seed for today’s First UMC, West Allis. Then, God called people and volunteers to launch ministries and programs. In 1920, the formal choir was organized. In 1975, the Senior League was started. In 1953, the monthly newsletter, Methodist Messenger was introduced.
When God called Abram to leave and to go, Abram trusted and obeyed by leaving his world of settlement and by beginning a journey with God to a better world of God-making. First UMC is a product of God-making because pioneers and visionaries trusted and obeyed God’s call. The early women who pioneered the early church were Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Worthington, Mrs. Farmin and Mrs. Lowry. History tells us that Mrs. Lowry brought the first convert to the Methodist group who was none other than her husband, who became the first tailor in Milwaukee. John Bowes and John LeFeber donated the first land to help organize the North Greenfield Methodist Episcopal Church. Such stories and testimonies with rich experiences have been a source of support, nurture and encouragement for this 137-year- old congregation.
George Young and Rees Powell who wrote the history of the first 80 years said: “The purpose of early Methodism in Milwaukee was breaking the bread of life with the hungry protestants in Milwaukee.”
May it be so today and everyday!