by Jim Bulls
This is part three in a series of articles on the history of churches in Reedley.
The third church to be organized in Reedley in the 1800s was the First Methodist Episcopal in 1890. The congregation first met in the home of Charles Gummow, but was able to open the doors of a new church building on the corner of 13th & F streets in 1892.
Methodism got its start in a unique series of events beginning with Henry VIII. In order to legitimatize his daughter Elizabeth, Henry needed a divorce which the Catholic Church would not give him, thus started the demise of the Catholic Church as the Church of England and the beginning of the Anglican Church. Oxford University was a center for educating Anglican priests, two of which were the Wesley brothers, John and Charles. In today’s terminology, they and their followers would be known as “nerds”, as their fellow classmates dubbed them Methodists for the methodical way they divided up their daily lives into periods of study, worship, meals, exercise and sleep.
As priests, the Wesleys were locked out of the Anglican churches, so they preached from the church steps. Their congregation was the unchurched common man who was not allowed in the church proper; this became one of the largest evangelical movements in history. Methodists believe in the Triune God (that God is one in three persons), that scripture is the inspired word of God, and that all humans are sinners but have salvation through Jesus Christ. They also believe that baptism is a covenant with God, not to be repeated, and they practice open communion. Methodists believe that people have free will because of God’s divine grace. The key to Wesleyan theology is that within the individual, divine grace operates in three parts: as prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
In 1900, the Methodists added a larger bell tower and a narthex to the existing church building. Twenty years later the building was bursting at the seams, so property was purchased at 12th and F streets and a new church was built. Opening its doors in 1924 under the name First Methodist Church, the building was striking in appearance with a tile roof, stained glass windows, and chimes in the bell tower that rang out favorite hymns at noon and on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, in the late 1960s it was condemned due to termite infestation and fire damage, and fell to the sound of a wrecker’s ball.
The First Methodists met in the Japanese Fellowship Methodist Church for five years before purchasing the church building on 11th and E streets from the First Baptist congregation. The Methodists then shared that building with the Baptists until the new Baptist church was completed. The chancel furniture and stained glass windows came out of storage and were installed in the building and the old baptistery was removed.
By this time, the Methodists had another name change. Remember the United Brethrens from 1889? In 1968, the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged, creating the United Methodist Church. Ironically, Reedley’s first church and third church now worship in Reedley’s second church as the First United Methodist congregation.