First Community UMC: Our History

On Sunday, October 15th, 2023, The First Community United Methodist Church in Medford observed the 200th Anniversary of Methodism in Medford.

The first Methodist Episcopal Church of Medford.

by Mrs. Abby D. Saxe.

[Read before the Medford Historical Society, May 20, 1907.]

METHODIST Episcopal services in Medford were commenced in July, 1822, by Rev. Josiah Brackett, a local preacher of Charlestown, at the invitation of several godly members of the church in Charlestown who resided in Medford. His first sermon was delivered in the building known as ‘The College,’ which stood on Ship street, his text being the first two verses of the first Psalm. So well was he received that on the occasion of his second sermon about one hundred people gathered in the hall of one of the hotels. His text was John 15: 14— ‘Ye are my friends,’ etc. As a result of Brother Brackett’s preaching, a Methodist class was formed which met every Sabbath afternoon, and weekly prayer-meetings were held. These meetings continued until 1823, when the first revival ever known in Medford occurred, and a Methodist Society of forty members was organized. A building adjoining Cradock bridge called Mead’s Hall was leased and fitted up, and a Sunday-school of about twenty members was formed. For seven years Brother Brackett continued to hold services in Medford, assisted by Revs. J. N. Maffitt and C. K. True. In 1828 a second revival occurred, in which many of the Sunday-school scholars were converted and joined the class. The same year the society was incorporated as ‘The First Methodist Episcopal Church in Medford,’ with Josiah BrackettIsaac McElroyJonathan GrossGeorge WilliamsWilliam JamesJames D. YatesAlvah Smith and Louis Janson [p. 2] as trustees, and a house of worship, 25 × 40 feet, was built on Cross street. This building now stands on Salem street, two doors east of the site of the third church edifice, burned in 1905. The society was connected with the First Methodist Church in Charlestown until 1831, when it became a station, and Rev. Apollas Hale was appointed pastor. From 1833 to 1839, the pulpit was again supplied by local preachers, until most of the members moved away and the society grew so small that preaching services were suspended for a time.

In February, 1842, Ira T. Barker of Medford was converted and joined the High street (now Trinity) Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown. In May of the same year he opened his home for public worship. A class was formed at his house and weekly prayer-meetings established. During the year a schoolhouse on Cross street was secured, fitted up as a chapel and dedicated by Rev. Moses L. Scudder, the Charlestown pastor. Prayer and class meetings were moved to the chapel, and preaching services were held occasionally by Brother Scudder until the fall of 1843, when Rev. Joseph Whitman of Malden and Rev. George Landon, pastor at North Russell street, Boston, held regular services in the chapel. During the winter a revival occurred, when ninety people were converted. The Sabbath-school was reorganized the same winter.

The society soon found the chapel too small and moved to the Town Hall. At the New England Conference in 1844, Medford was made a regular station, and Rev. George Pickering was appointed pastor. The next year Rev. George Frost was sent to Medford, and Brother Pickering was appointed a ‘special missionary agent to raise funds for the erection of a church edifice in Medford.’ He was successful, and a lot of land at the corner of Salem and Oakland streets was bought for $600.

The church, in 1845, had forty-two members. In August, 1845, Messrs. Job ClappIra BarkerWilliam B. Stone and Noah Hathaway were chosen building committee. [p. 3] On December 19, 1845, the church, erected by William B. Stone, was dedicated to the service of God. In the records of the society there is preserved a program of the dedicatory services of the ‘Pickering’ Methodist Episcopal Church in Medford. This name clung to the church for many years; in fact, until the third edifice was built, in 1872, there were many who still spoke of the Methodist Church as the ‘Pickering’ Church. Bishop Janes preached the dedication sermon, and prayer was offered by Rev. E. T. Taylor, the ‘Father’ Taylor of the Seamen’s Bethel in Boston. Upon the program mentioned above also appear two hymns, one of six stanzas and one of four, which were written especially for the occasion, although the name of the author is unknown. The church was built in accordance with the rules of church architecture existing at that time—the pews were square and had doors which ‘buttoned’ the occupants in. The choir was at the rear of the audience and facing the pulpit, and the singers were led by the ‘big fiddle and the little fiddle,’ or the bass viol and violin. When the hymns were given out the congregation rose and faced the choir during the singing.

At the time of its erection the entrance doors were near its corners, and a broad platform with steps descending toward Salem street extended entirely across its front. These were, in 1854, removed, as also the slightly elevated alcove within, between the ‘entries,’ that contained the ‘singing seats.’ More seating capacity was thus gained, and an enlargement was made in front for a vestibule, with a gallery above for the choir and the excellent organ then procured.

Externally the building then presented the appearance shown in Brooks‘‘History of Medford,’ and a few other changes were made within, notably the removal of the pew doors.

In the year 1847 a society known as the Ladies’ Parsonage Furnishing and Stewards’ Relief Society was formed. This was the beginning of the organization [p. 4] now known as the ‘Ladies’ Aid Society,’ which has had an uninterrupted existence, though under various names, ever since. At first the Ladies’ Society took the form of a sewing circle. The ladies ‘took in’ sewing, working on it at their weekly meetings, and the money received for the work done there went into the treasury. Any member bringing her own sewing to the meeting was fined six cents.

From 1846 to 1854 the following able and consecrated pastors served the Methodist Episcopal Church in MedfordRevs. J. A. AdamsJames ShepardThomas W. TuckerWillard SmithA. D. MerrillJohn W. Perkins and Charles NobleRevs. E. S. Best and William A. Braman followed. During Mr. Braman‘s ministry the vestry was repaired and improved, and a gracious revival of religion was experienced. Rev. A. F. Herrick followed, and was succeeded by Rev. Jarvis A. AmesMr. Ames was appointed to Medford in April, 1861, and on the day he arrived news came of the attack on Fort Sumter. The next Wednesday the Lawrence Light Guard left Medford for three months service at the front, and Mr. Ames offered the farewell prayer as the company gathered around him in Medford square. He proved himself a loyal citizen and ardent patriot in the two years he remained at Medford. One of his chief characteristics was his fearless outspokenness for what he believed to be right and the uncompromising attitude he took in the matter of slavery and State rights. During his pastorate he wrote a history of the church from its earliest beginnings in Medford, and the book containing his history, in his own handwriting, is still preserved in our archives.

Among those who fought for the Union from the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Medford were: William H. S. BarkerEdward Gustine (killed at the battle of Malvern Hill); Daniel S. Cheney (killed at the battle before Richmond); George F. KittredgeWilliam B. ParkerCharles O. AlleyHenry G. Currell (died a prisoner at Andersonville); Edward F. CrockettHenry Hathaway; [p. 5] Benjamin Ellis (who starved in a Southern prison, was exchanged among other prisoners, and reached Medford only to die); Antipas Newton, Jr.Austin F. ClarkCharles EllisGeorge A. NewcombRodney Hathaway and Nelson Hathaway.

Mr. Ames was followed by Revs. Henry M. LoudDavid Sherman, D. D., and Daniel Wait. During Mr. Wait‘s ministry a revival occurred which spread through the town, embracing all the evangelical churches. During this pastorate, also, the church lost by death three of its most valued members—Joseph L. GoldthwaitAlbert Butters and Ira T. Barker. In 1869 Rev. N. T. Whitaker followed Mr. Wait. That year the society purchased a house on the corner of Salem and Park streets for a parsonage, but retained it only two years when the new church enterprise demanded all available funds. In 1869 a new board of trustees was incorporated according to the General Statutes of the Commonwealth.

On July 1, 1871, land for a new church was bought on Salem street near Cross street, and the work of building was entered upon at once. The building committee were William C. ChildThomas C. Newcomb and Obed K. Doane, who did faithful service until the beautiful church was completed at a cost of $50,000. It was dedicated April 30, 1873, by Bishop Gilbert Haven, assisted by Revs. Ira G. Bidwell, D. D. (who preached the sermon), R. R. Meredith, and the pastor, Rev. Francis J. Wagner.

Inasmuch as this church building was for many years a landmark in Medford, and now nothing remains of it, even its ashes having been removed, it may be well to give a short description of its distinguishing characteristics. It was of open timber construction, its interior finish was of chestnut, and the organ pipes and frescoing in blue and gold. The auditorium was the largest in the town, seating more than one thousand, and the organ was the finest for many miles around, costing $3,500. It was what was styled a ‘two-story church,’ i.e., its basement, containing the Sunday-school and social rooms, [p. 6] was entirely above ground, and was light and roomy. Its spire was 140 feet in height and contained one of the Medford town clocks and a 1,800-pound bell of the key of F. If this edifice lacked the present-day requirements of church housekeeping, it was at least up to date at its erection, and was built with the idea of accommodating a growing church in a growing community.

The winter of 1874 was blessed with a glorious revival, in which many were converted and brought into the church. Mr. Wagner was followed by Rev. T. Berton Smith, and he by Rev. T. Corwin Watkins. In October, 1878, the semi-centennial of the church was held, it being fifty years from the date of incorporation. The celebration lasted one week, and many former pastors were present. When Mr. Watkins left us he took with him as his wife one of our members, Miss E. D. HadleyMr. Watkins was followed by Rev. Gilbert C. OsgoodMr. Osgood employed no evangelist during his three years pastorate, but union meetings with the Baptist and Congregational churches were held in January of each year, continuing from one to three weeks, which were carried on by the pastors, and held alternately in the several houses of worship. A general spiritual interest continued through his whole term. A number of deaths occurred during Mr. Osgood‘s pastorate, among them several of the older members of the church, of whom Andrew Pike was one, and one member of the Board of Stewards, Jacob W. SaxeMr. Osgood succeeded in raising the sum of $4,000 toward the church debt.

He was succeeded by Revs. James W. Fenn, and Lyman D. BraggMr. Bragg‘s three years pastorate proved to be a very eventful one. The church was repaired and painted at a cost of about $1,000. Two revivals occurred, in which some notable conversions took place, and the young people were organized into a society called the Oxford League, which later developed into the Epworth League. At the beginning of the second year of Mr. Bragg‘s ministry, April, 1886, he asked [p. 7] to be allowed to raise the whole debt of the church, $13,000. After much earnest and prayerful deliberation the Official Board accepted the offer, and this tireless man went to work. He published a four-page monthly called The Enterprise, which proved very helpful in many ways. The Ladies’ Social Circle held fairs, suppers and entertainments, the various societies of the church put their shoulders under the load and with a ‘long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all together,’ the big mortgage was lifted and the church was free from debt. On March 27, 1888, Mr. Bragg announced that enough money had been secured to cancel the mortgage and pay all accrued interest, nearly $14,000. The pastorate closed with a grand jubilee, with resolutions of love for the pastor and his family, and with thanksgiving to God for his blessing to us.

Rev. E. T. Curnick followed Mr. Bragg. He found the church free from debt, even the current expenses of previous years being paid in full, a novel experience. During this pastorate, women were first elected as stewards in the church, Mrs. J. W. Saxe and Mrs. Celia M. Vining being appointed at the First Quarterly Conference, held May 8, 1890. A Junior Epworth League was formed and conducted by the pastor, the children were well instructed, and later furnished many members of the church.

Mr. Curnick was followed by Rev. Fayette Nichols, and he by Rev. O. W. Hutchinson. During Mr. Hutchinson‘s ministry the Sunday-school was reorganized into a thoroughly graded school, and the Ladies’ Social Circle was reorganized with a new constitution as the Ladies’ Aid Society.

Mr. Hutchinson was followed by Rev. Alexander Dight, who remained one year. He was succeeded in April, 1897, by Rev. George S. Chadbourne, D. D. During his first year the church was thoroughly repaired and remodelled, a parlor and kitchen added and furnished, new entrances to church and grounds made, painting, frescoing, [p. 8] cushions and carpets, making the church-home beautiful and attractive. The church was reopened in October, 1897, with a reunion and banquet. In June, 1898, Dr. Chadbourne, following the example of Dr. Watkins, took as his wife one of our members, Mrs. Martha RansomDr. Chadbourne‘s Bible Class, held in the audience room during the Sunday-school hour, was largely attended and greatly enjoyed, as was also the Teachers’ Bible Class held at the parsonage on Saturday evenings. During Dr. Chadbourne‘s five years pastorate the church lost by death several of the oldest members, among them BrosOrvid M. Fowler and William T. Hannah.

Rev. F. T. Pomeroy succeeded Dr. Chadbourne, and remained three years. During his pastorate several deaths occurred among the church membership, among them being Mr.Newcomb and Mrs. Thomas C. Newcomb and Mrs. O. M. Fowler.

Mr. Pomeroy was followed in April, 1905, by Rev. Edgar Cary Bridgham, who is still our pastor. Early during his pastorate, on Saturday night, August 19, 1905, the church was totally destroyed by a fire of incendiary origin. Many were the tears shed in Methodist homes all over the city that night, and many prayers for sustaining grace went up to the All-wise and Mighty Father who had permitted this great calamity to fall upon us. But there was work to be done, and with tears in our eyes and a lump in every throat, we passed the smoking ruins the next day to the services in the Baptist Church. The churches of the city did all in their power to help and comfort in our hour of need. Letters of sympathy and offers of shelter were received on every side, and were greatly appreciated. A meeting of the Official Board was held in the vestry of the Baptist Church on Sunday evening, and a committee was appointed to secure a temporary place of worship. On Monday evening, August 2 1, a special Quarterly Conference was held, and it was voted to rebuild at once. A committee on location was appointed, and it was finally decided to build in a different [p. 9] locality. Accordingly, on October 10, 1905, land on Otis street, near Central avenue, was bought for the site of a new church, and a house and land on Central avenue were purchased for a parsonage. From September 1, 1905, to December 23, 1906, the church services were held in the Washington School Hall, kindly placed at our disposal by Mayor Dwyer.

On July 7, 1906, the corner-stone of the present edifice was laid. The building committee consisted of Rev. E. C. BridghamA. L. OrdwayWilliam F. WiltshireL. Frank Cole and Edgar A. Thomas. They labored faithfully; the architect, Lewis A. Dow of Melrose, did all that scientific skill and tireless effort could do, and on March Io, 1907, the present edifice was dedicated to the service of Almighty God by Bishop Daniel Ayres Goodsell, D. D., every cent of the cost having been pledged.

Since 1905, the church has lost by death several of her oldest members, among them being Mrs. L. W. AdamsMrs. C. N. JonesMrs. Mary E. Child and Miss Frances Taylor. The present membership is two hundred and twenty-one.

The other organizations of the church, subject to its control, are, The Sunday-school, Ladies’ Aid Society, Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, Epworth League and Wesley Brotherhood.

The Sabbath-school was organized first in 1823, with about twenty members. The school steadily increased in interest and numbers for several years, but in 1838, when the public church services were discontinued, the Sabbath-school was also discontinued for a time. In 1843 it was reorganized, with Ira T. Barker as superintendent, and from that time until the present has had a continuous existence. The superintendents have been as follows:—

Ira T. BarkerNoah HathawayThomas EmersonJoseph L. GoldthwaitCharles F. NewcombThomas C. NewcombS. B. HarringtonCharles N. JonesBailey T. MillsAugustus L. OrdwayS. N. Mayo, W. T. [p. 10] [p. 11]

Such are the bare facts of the history of the First Methodist Episcopal Church in Medford. Since 1828, the date of her incorporation, she has built and dedicated four houses of worship. In 1828 Methodist pastors were permitted to stay only one year in a station. The time limit has been changed since then, to two, three, five years, until now the time limit has been removed and a minister may be appointed annually to the same charge an indefinite number of times.

The doctrine and government of the First Methodist Episcopal Church are those of the Methodist Episcopal Church everywhere. This branch of the Church Universal ‘has always believed that the only infallible proof of the legitimacy of any branch of the Christian Church is in its ability to seek and to save the lost.’ Chief stress has ever been laid, not upon forms, but upon the essentials of religion. It holds that true Churches of Christ may differ widely in ceremonies, ministerial orders and government, but that the sole object should be to ‘fulfill to the end of time the original divine vocation as a leader in evangelizations, in all true reforms and in the promotion of fraternal relations among all branches of the one Church of Jesus Christ, with whom it is a co-worker in the spiritual conquest of the world for the Son of God.’

Of the prayers, the sacrifices, the loving service, the mourning and rejoicing, no record has been kept on earth. All is written upon the Lamb’s Book of Life. As we close this sketch, names and faces of those gone before throng the memory—Bro. Joseph L. Goldthwait, broadminded, public spirited; Norton Newcomb;1 Thomas C. Newcomb, sunny tempered, charitable in all his judgments; Franklin Rand, optimistic, loyal, and deeply pious; William H. Miller, class leader for many years, and always [p. 12] an enthusiastic occupant of the ‘Amen’ corner; Edwin Stevens (father and son), alike in name and in their love for the church of their choice, the father for many years a well-loved class leader, and the son, licensed to preach by our Quarterly Conference, and going out from us to a useful and honorable career as a preacher of the gospel; Mrs. C. N. Jones, gifted, sympathetic, her well-balanced judgment and wise counsel were the support and help of all her friends; Mrs. Mary E. Child, tireless worker and always full of zeal for missions, and many, many more. Truly the Medford Methodists may raise their rock ‘Ebenezer,’ and say with Samuel and Joshua of old,‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,’ and ‘The Lord our God will we serve and his voice will we obey.’

More Recent Updates

For its 150th anniversary celebration in 1973. First Community UMC compiled a great deal of information in a beautiful Anniversary Dinner program booklet with a short history of Methodists in Medford and a list of pastors. The celebration was also accompanied by a booklet with a timeline listing the organizing of Methodist churches in Medford, pictures of the different church buildings. and a challenging message from Pastor Harvey F Smith

Methodist women have been an essential part of the mission and ministry of churches in Medford. First Community UMC had as many as twelve (12) circles of United Methodist Women A document from 1992 notes that there were three circles at this time: Chalice. Fidelis, and Vaters. The last circle was Fidelis. and it had its last meeting in January of 2020 A statement by a member of the Fidelis circle notes the importance of this ministry: “On May 15, 1957. a new women’s circle was formed at what was then the First Methodist Church in Medford, Massachusetts Eleven charter members attended that first meeting. At the second meeting, the circle was named Fidelis. Mr. Thompson. the father of Hope Fritsch. one of the charter members, had suggested the name because it means “faithful.” Through the years. more than sixty women have belonged to Fidelis Circle at one time or another and found there a place to laugh together and sometimes cry together – a place to share problems and joys with each other. ”Above all. we have found a place to be “faithful” to each other, our church, our friends. and our families”

Some of the activities of Methodists at First Community UMC included Church breakfasts and Suppers, September back to Sunday School breakfasts. Spaghetti and meatballs dinners. Veterans Day Dinner hosted and cooked by Troop 416. Harrows
chicken pies and Secret Prayer Pal reveal events. Chocolate Auction in February. Brown bag Auction. Boiled dinner in March. Red Sox opening Day supper. Children’s’ Day cookout at Logan Park (or behind the church or in Fellowship hall), Prom REDO in 2012 with
Pastor Tony as DJ. Blessing of the animals once every year on the feast of St. Francis. Easter vigils Saturday night, and Easter egg hunts on Sunday after church,

The ministry and mission of First Community UMC shifted dramatically in the last fifty years. The church building became a center of ministry not only for the congregation but several communities: a preschool. 12-step groups, Boy Scouts. Girl Scouts, a new church start (Mosaic Ministry for 2 years), A Seventh Day Adventist Brazilian Church. and The Evangelical Church of the Holiness. Some of the key events that shaped its current ministry and mission included:

1) The sale of the Parish house (January 13, 2012) forced the church to turn its chapel into church offices that used to be housed in the parish house next door.

2) The process from 2003 to 2016 where the congregation explored and considered the
possibility of becoming a reconciling community. This was a difficult process changing the identity of the congregation. (See story in this booklet).

3) The global pandemic (COVID-19) in 2020 forced the church to consider a new
way of being in ministry.

4) The acceptance of a new ministry in September of 2022 – Casa Raices Latinas ministry with seminary students at the parsonage. This continues to shape the ministry of the church as a space of formation and practice for new generations of religious leadership. (See story in this booklet).

Some of the activities that formed and continue to nurture the congregation up to this day, include weekly Bible studies. Beach Sunday continues as a strong tradition for over a decade, the Christmas Eve candlelight and communion services (always at 11 p.m.). and special events that formed community.

Today. the history of the joining of these three congregations is attested to by the three stained glass windows in our sanctuary at First Community United Methodist Church. As we reflect on the great history this church holds. we feel deep gratitude for those who have gone before us and the paths we walked that led us here today. We also take this opportunity to look hopefully to the future of our church and what we can continue to build on its foundations.

History compiled by Christine Conge and Rev. Dr. Cristian De La Rosa with the help of many faithful church members.