In 2005, First United Methodist Church faced a major decision. It was offered $17 million for its downtown property, where the church has been located since 1911.
In a congregation-wide vote, an overwhelming majority of the members chose to stay, and this year the church will celebrate its 120th anniversary at its downtown location, 104 S. Pineapple Ave., where they have vowed to remain.
“We are a downtown church,” says the Rev. Arthur P. McClellan, senior pastor. “We don’t want to lose that presence.”
First Church, which is the longest-existing organization in Sarasota, will celebrate its anniversary with a March 30 reunion dinner for current and returning congregants.
First Church’s history began in 1891, when 12 founding members established the Methodist Episcopal Church South, as it was originally named. In 1893, the church’s first building was erected on a small plot of land at the corner of Main Street and Pineapple Avenue, where Patrick’s restaurant is now located. The land was purchased for $40.
In 1911, First Church moved to its present location on Pineapple Avenue. The church currently has 1,150 members.
The church has undergone several renovations and other changes over the decades, including the addition of a day-care center and a family-life center. Rod Warner, chairman of the church council, says it is the church’s ability to adapt that has enabled it to endure throughout the years.
“The church has grown with Sarasota,” says Warner. “The church is important to the downtown’s urban livability.”
In honor of its anniversary, the church will begin in April a $1.4 million renewal plan, which will include remodeling of the sanctuary and its Pineapple Avenue and Mira Mar Court entrances and the addition of a prayer garden. McClellan says the changes, which will include increased worship space, updated lighting and handicap accessibility, will make the church more welcoming and identifiable to the community.
“It’s about having an understanding that the church building may stand still, but the congregation can’t,” says McClellan. “We may have a long history, but we don’t rest on that.”
1891 — Methodist Episcopal Church South (First Church’s original name) is established.
1893 — First United Methodist Church is built at Five Points Corner.
1911 — First Church moves to present location at 104 S. Pineapple Ave.
1924 — One of the area’s first pipe organs is installed at First Church.
1953 — Services are held in the city auditorium due to overcrowding of the church’s sanctuary.
1955 — A new sanctuary, where worship services are conducted today, is dedicated.
1970 — The Education Center, now called the Family Life Center, is built.
1976 — The first annual Pineapple Antiques Show and Sale is held.
1990 — The Early Care day-care center opens.
1991 — First Church celebrates its centennial anniversary.
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