Our History

First United Methodist Church, Our History

220th Anniversary as a Congregation (2020)

Athens, Ohio

The Methodist movement of spiritual revitalization within the Anglican Church was led by brothers, John & Charles Wesley who were 18th century Anglican Priests. The movement spread throughout England and eventually to America where it became a new denomination in 1784, known as The Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1939, it became The Methodist Church and in 1968 it was renamed The United Methodist Church.

The Methodist movement has been known for its emphasis on small groups where Christians gather to practice the spiritual disciplines of scripture, prayer, and service, and hold each other accountable in becoming more like Jesus. Methodists are also known for using the quadrilateral approach to interpreting scripture which involves reading it through the lenses of 1) church tradition and how the church has understood the scriptures over the past centuries 2) experience which includes our personal experiences in our relationship with God 3) reason which involves using our minds to understand scripture in its literary context. Methodist theology describes God’s grace as 1) Prevenient Grace – God’s grace is extended to us before we are consciously aware of it 2) Justifying Grace – God’s grace awakens us to repentance leading us to be justified and reconciled to God 3) Sanctifying Grace – God’s grace continues to call us to be sanctified and become more and more like Jesus throughout our lives.

Athens First United Methodist Church is older than Athens itself. In 1800, Rev. James Quinn, newly ordained by Bishop Richard Whatcoat (himself ordained by John Wesley) and assigned to the entire territory northwest of the Ohio, made a missionary tour up the Hocking River. He preached at Athens, then consisting of not more than five or six widely scattered log cabins. Soon after, a Hockhocking Circuit, with Rev. Quinn in charge, was created in the old Western Conference (covering Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio). The circuit extended from the Muskingum River to the Scioto, “a hard and laborious circuit” that required weeks to ride. Until 1813, services in Athens were held in private homes; in that year the Methodists erected their first church building. It faced east on Congress Street.

As late as 1825 this first brick edifice was one of only six public buildings and the only church in Athens. The first church on the present College Street site was built in 1837. By 1847 Athens became a station – that is, it had a minister of its own, rather than sharing a circuit-rider. In 1908 the second church building was replaced with an even grander structure, replete with a magnificent organ.

The Wesley Foundation was organized in 1927-8, with the Rev. Arlie H. Krussell as first Wesley Foundation pastor. The congregation dropped its “middle name” Episcopal, in 1939, when the three largest branches of American Methodism united. The Woman’s Society of Christian Service (now known as our United Methodist Women) and Methodist Youth Fellowship were established locally the following year on the plans resulting from that unification.

By 1949, it was clear that the old church building had been outgrown; before plans for enlarging it could reach fruition, the church burned on February 5, 1955. In its three homeless years, until February 1958, the congregation met in what is now known as the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. In 1968, the church became known as Athens First United Methodist Church due to the merger of two denominations, The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

A major capital campaign was successfully completed in 2017 that resulted in an expanded front glass entrance, a remodeling of the sanctuary with the addition of air conditioning, and an elevator to all floors.

Throughout our 220 year history, our church has been making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.

This video depicts the rebuilding of the Athens First United Methodist Church on College Street from 1956-58. A 1981 interview with Paul Boase and John W. Dowler accompanies the footage. The movie was shot by the late Dowler and submitted by Cheryl Dowler.

This video depicts the final phases of construction and the opening the Athens First United Methodist Church on College Street. A 1981 interview with Paul Boase and John W. Dowler accompanies the footage. The movie was shot by the late Dowler and submitted by Cheryl Dowler.