How it all started...
The Bartlesville Magnet reported that the very first formal organization of the First Methodist Church of Bartlesville occurred on February 26, 1895 in the home of George and Josephine Keeler. Josephine had invited several women to her home with the intent of establishing a branch of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Rev. C.M. Coppedge of Vinita was the presiding elder with Rev. G.M. Byers being appointed the first minister which he served this small church for three years. The group began meeting in the one-room schoolhouse located on North Delaware. The building was used by several religious groups; it has been noted that the Baptists and the Church of Christ also met there. The small Methodist Church congregation grew rapidly, although the population at that time in newly incorporated city of Bartlesville was a mere 250. Josephine Keeler was named the first Sunday School Superintendent. On March 16, 1898, the Bartlesville Magnet published that “…the Methodist E. Church South was taking steps to build a new church.” Their new church was built on a lot at 4th and Delaware Ave. By 1900, the church decided to sell the lot and move their church to 5th & Johnstone which was quickly becoming the business district of Bartlesville.
The Methodist Ladies Aid Society had an early beginning in Bartlesville and was a driving force to the M.E. Church. Mrs. Edgar Huling invited six women to her home in 1900 in the hopes they would be interested in organizing a support group to the early church. These women organized and quickly grew to become a strong backbone to the church in the 1900s. The Ladies played a vital part in raising funds, planning functions, and serving meals in those early days.
In 1903, Rev. C.B. Larrabee of Nowata was appointed to the Methodist Episcopal Church (North) in Bartlesville. During Larrabee’s ministry here, a ‘house of eight gables’ was erected facing 6th Street on the same block as the M.E. Church South’s old wooden church building. It was a 2-story building— the main floor was for worship service and classrooms, while the second story was the pastor’s parsonage. The “Northern” Methodists met on the south end of the block, while the “Southern” Methodists met on the north end of the same block. How confusing was this situation? During this era, the very first Bible School was organized in 1900 and the Epworth League began in 1904 which later we know it as the MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship). In 1905, through the efforts of Dr. M.N. Powers’ due diligence, the two small churches eventually united. This was among the first such unification in Methodism history. In May 1905, the new church became the Methodist Episcopal Church. The combined congregations worshiped in the eight- gabled church for a very short time.
Two years later in 1907, the old 1898 wooden church building was moved to the back, near the alley and was converted into the parsonage. Several years later, it was moved to the 700 block of Johnstone. A much larger red brick church building was planned and constructed. With Frank Phillips, John Johnstone, and E.C. Carman all serving on fundraising, (thus their names are on one of the stained-glass windows). The new church building was completed at a cost of $22,500 and dedicated on February 14, 1909. As Bartlesville grew during the “Oil Boom”, so grew the church. In 1911, Rev. James G. Harshaw, the pastor, thought the west side of Bartlesville needed a Methodist Church. With the assistance of our church, this west side church was named Epworth Methodist Church (on Virginia Ave.,) and later became Grace Epworth Church (located at 3rd & Seneca Ave). During the late 20’s and early 30’s, the downtown Methodist Church felt the necessity to provide partial budget expenses to Grace Epworth Church to assist them through the Depression years.
The Boy Scout Troop #2 was chartered on January 31, 1920 and sponsored by the M.E. Church. Troop #2 continues to be active today, still sponsored by the church, and boasts that they have more than 100 young men who have become Eagle Scouts. This year, Troop #2 will celebrate being 100 years old.
Growth was constant and in 1915, the average attendance of the Sunday School Classes was 586. The congregation began to feel the need for additional classroom space. Finally, in 1924, the church trustees developed a building committee with Frank Phillips, John Johnstone, and E.C. Carman and other prominent church members being asked to help with fundraising and planning the new building. A new large multi-floored Education Building was attached to the rear of the church and was dedicated on September 11, 1927. The Education Building totaled $66,457.28.
In 1937, Frank Philips again came to the aid of the Bartlesville churches with his generosity when he paid off all of the churches’ mortgages. The First Methodist debt was $19,500. Now, the Methodist Church and all of the Bartlesville churches were debt-free all thanks to Uncle Frank.
1939 was the year of the world-wide union of Methodism. The two factions of the Methodist Church united to become one church; although the two Bartlesville Methodist Churches had united thirty-four years earlier in 1905 due to the forward thinking and dedicated work of Dr. M.N. Powers.
At the end of WWII, the Gold Star parents (parents of servicemen that were killed during WWII) presented a plaque to the church listing the ten young men from Bartlesville who lost their lives in conflict. After the war ended, the return to a normal life and a generous gift of land by Bill Doenges spurred the growth of membership and church activities. Thus, an expansion Committee recommended that a financial campaign be started to build a larger sanctuary in 1951. $250,000 was pledged for the new sanctuary, an architect was hired to design the sanctuary, and the contract was accepted for $400,000 for materials and furnishings. The women of the church sold souvenir plates for $2 each helping raise funds for the campaign. A groundbreaking for the new sanctuary was held on July 27, 1952. Two years later, a “Consecration Week” (April 4 – 8, 1954) was held to celebrate the completion of the new sanctuary.
In the 50s, Bartlesville was experiencing considerable growth as well. Businesses, shopping centers, and houses were popping up across the Caney River to the east. In 1952, East Cross Methodist Church (formerly Limestone Methodist) was established to minister to the east-side population with the assistance of the downtown Methodist Church. The East Cross building was located on Madison Blvd. A few years later, the Oak Park Methodist Church (within the northwestern area of Bartlesville) was established again with assistance from the First Methodist Church.
In 1956, the church decided to renovate the 1927 Education Building and to construct a Chapel to be named in honor of George Sneed, a church member and a Phillips executive who was killed in an airplane crash in December 1956. This necessitated the razing of the old red brick sanctuary that had been built in 1908. On February 26, 1956, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to mark the beginning of construction and was completed in 1957 totaling $370,000. Some 6,000 volunteer hours of labor were contributed by church members to help to defray the cost of construction. Schools and other community buildings were used by the church during this major construction. With the completion of this new renovation, our church again experienced increased membership bringing the total to over 3,500 members.
The First Methodist Church flourished for many years at this location on Johnstone Ave. in downtown Bartlesville. In 1960, the church’s Sunday School attendance averaged 1,077 with 240 persons listed as teachers and assistants. It was also ranked 21st in attendance among Methodist Churches in the United States. To accommodate the increase in attendance, the Sunday School sessions and the worship services were doubled—there were two worship services and two Sunday School sessions held each Sunday.
Another “first” for FUMC occurred in 1963 with a presentation of a set of English brass handbells from the A.C. and Carrie Easter family. W..D. McKeehan began a youth handbell choir that became renown throughout Oklahoma. This led to the addition of several more youth choirs in the church and traveling for performances. In 1967, Mac added two large Malmark brass bells to the set. Since that time, more handbells have been added, but the handbell choir has been limited to adult church members. The Easter Family Memorial Handbells have been enjoyed by hundreds of listeners for many years and is still in existence today.
In 1964 A very unique and worthwhile project was started by Mildred Reusser, Esther Carlton, Elizabeth Doenges, and Louise Lanning, This group became to be known as MUTUAL (Methodists United To Use Applied Love) Girls Club .
In 1968, a worldwide denominational0000 merger occurred between the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The resulting body was called The United Methodist Church. The downtown Methodist Church became Bartlesville’s First United Methodist Church and just three years later.
FUMC celebrated their 75th Anniversary on June 13, 1971. Two worship services (8:30 and 10:30) were held followed by a noon luncheon. Dr. Robert Smith mentioned in his column in the Ministerial Meanderings first: “Seventy-five years is a mighty long time…..” and later commented that , “….The church ranks among the five largest churches in Oklahoma Methodism membership and is third in the state in stewardship.” It was found that the total membership of First United Methodist Church of Bartlesville in accomplishment! Josephine Keeler certainly left an enormous legacy to Bartlesville!
In March 1973, a group of sixteen women were organized by Gretchen Thomas formed “The UMW Quilting Bee.” Funds earned from sales of the ladies’ quilts went to various mission and relief projects. Funds were also used to the needs of the local church and community, such as the Senior Citizens Transportation fund, CONCERN Day Care Center, the Church Mini-Bus fund and other worthwhile projects. Every Wednesday morning for years, the ladies stitched their craft. However, age, illness, moves and death reduced the numbers who participated. By 1995, the group disbanded after having completed their 121st quilt. That’s truly a remarkable feat for these women.
In the 1980s, it was the FUMC who reached out to the other churches in Bartlesville. The Church had the idea that we were all working toward the same goal; “to assist our members to become disciples of Jesus Christ.” Therefore, Dr. Ray Owen approached the pastorate in Bartlesville to join forces and begin a city-wide pastoral alliance and counseling service. The pastoral group continues to meet today and the counseling service is today known as the Samaritan Counseling.
Another spurt of membership growth occurred in 1983. The idea for “Vision 2000” was developed by Dr. Ray Owen, the current pastor. His comment was, “If there is no long–range vision and no direction, the future will just happen to us. ….. In the past, most church planning has been short-term—perhaps a year in advance….” Consequently, a Long-Range Planning Committee was named to consider expanding the church offices and establishing weekday care for a pre-school children’s program in downtown Bartlesville. This would meet the needs of young families with both parents working. Other activities were an outgrowth of this committee which included: Stephen Ministries, Bethel Bible Study, and the first Walk to Emmaus. FRESH (Fellowship, Recreation, Education, Safety, & Health) Ministries for older adults provided new and unique opportunities to expand their horizons through a variety of interesting programs. The Golden Warrior dinners fed both the palate and the soul.
Because this church has always been a big supporter of mission outreach and world services, the Bartlesville First Methodist Church began providing support for building a M.E. Church in Kenya, Africa. Throughout the years of 19885-87, we single-handedly provided the building and staffing of this church. What a big undertaking this was.
In addition, a Heritage Committee was created by Dr. Ray Owen in January 1987. The purpose was to establish a history and heritage room to depict the growth and progress of our church since its humble beginning in 1895 in Indian Territory with dusty and muddy streets. Their task was completed in February 1989 and the Hall of Faith became an ongoing project. The committee set to work to identify and display the historical artifacts of our church’s long and rich history. They were instrumental when the Hall of Faith was also established with portraits of the Apostles donated to hang in the hallway outside the History Room and Ray Owen Room. This was designed to be an integral part of the Church.
The women who did needlepoint began making kneeling cushions to be placed on the altar in the sanctuary. This project was truly a ‘labor of love’ for these women. and took them three years to complete this. The beginning of construction of the administration wing and the new day care pre-school program completed in 1988.
The Vision 2000 Expansion Campaign wasn’t started until 1986 and was completed in 1988. The Kid’s First Day Care led by Linda Muterspaugh enrolled 200 children the first year. As projected, it did bring young families into the church. The food ministry proved to be very successful by providing mid-week meals with doughnuts and snacks on Sunday. The Fountain of Youth (an authentic soda fountain) including arcade games and a movie room provided a big boost to the church’s youth program. Life was good in Bartlesville in 1986.
Beginning in January 1995, plans were underway for the church’s Centennial in September 22-24. It started with former pastors being invited to return and preach on commemorative Sundays. The big event was planned to be a three-day weekend celebration. In September as planned: Friday was an “Old Fashioned Pie Supper, storytelling, and a musical concert to showcase the addition of the external pipes upgrade to the church organ; Saturday was the Dedication of the Bishop Ray Owen History Room and a picnic in Johnstone Park; Sunday Church Worship Service with Bishop Ray Owen preaching and was held in the Bartlesville Community Center to handle the additional attendance expected at the service. Mementos for the occasion were for sale. It was a very busy weekend and what a celebration it was.
The First United Methodist Church remained strong in downtown Bartlesville for several years after the excitement of being 100 years old. We continued our missions, stewardship, Sunday School, youth program, Singles group, Stephen Ministry, the Disciples Bible Study, and the XYZ (Extra Years of Zest) met regularly. Our local ministry to the under-privileged children in Bartlesville began with a Wednesday evening meal and Bible story time for these children. This project has been very successful due to the devoted volunteers who greet these children every Wednesday evening with a smile and a hug. But still something was missing—Enthusiasm, Invigoration, and Excitement. Rev. Paul Bowles, in 2006, formed a Long-Range Planning Committee, co-chaired by Charlie Bowerman and Bob Farmer. It was their task to study our ministry and the facility needs of our congregation. In this interim….., our pastor Dr. Bowles unexpectedly passed away and the church was left in limbo while we had several short- term pastors. The committee continued to work toward the goals placed before them. 1) A number of major issues were identified with our facility; 2) Architects were consulted for possible renovation ideas; ; 3) Site visits to successfully remodeled churches. 4) Remodeling proposal didn’t seem adequate for our situation. It became very evident that we were landlocked and there was no room for expansion. After numerous discussions and thoughtful praying in 2009, the congregation voted with 76% approval to consider relocating. The search was on for the ‘perfect’ location. It was when the 64 acres at Price Road and Madison was found, it seemed to be the perfect spot for our church with room to grow and pursue our dreams. The committee and congregation began exploring possible building plans. The new building needed to be a multi-use venue for traditional and contemporary worship services. We first built a dam and a pond on the land. The plan was to use it for outdoor receptions, weddings, class parties and youth activities. The excess land offered space for a columbarium, gardening, and walking trails. The Master Gardeners in the church soon began planning, tilling, and plotting land to develop a garden, which was soon named the Garden of Eatin.’ Definitely, we needed to make the outdoor spaces functional for us to use.
In 2010, the congregation accepted and voted on the building plans as presented to them. The Land Dedication Celebration was held on June 6, 2010 at 5 p.m. with the theme: “The Past… The Present… The Future of First United Methodist Church.” Afterwards, all attendees were invited to a picnic on the grounds.. The official groundbreaking for the building was in the Fall 2011. The Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and opening of the building for worship services was on August 18, 2013.
In the past six plus years that we have been in our new location: ON THIS ROCK. We have ventured down many new paths that can been added to our archives: The Garden of Eatin, the Animal Ministry, Canoe & Paddle Boat Races, Baptisms in the Pond, Lakeside Weddings, the Pumpkin Patch.
What does the future hold for Bartlesville First Church; a United Methodist Community? We have 125 years of a rich and vibrant history. We have those who have gone before us to thank for the great achievements in those 125 years. But, one fact remains: We can not achieve great things without the devout, forward thinking, hardworking lay people serving as the backbone and heart of the church.
“FIRSTS” OF BARTLESVILLE FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
1905 –Dr.M.N. Powers worked diligently to bring the Methodist Episcopal (North) and the Methodist Episcopal South Churches in Bartlesville to unite and become one Episcopal Methodist Church. This was one of the first unification in Methodism and it occurred here in Bartlesville. This melding of the two churches was finalized in May 1905.
1920—-Troop #2 of the Boy Scouts of America was sponsored by the First United Methodist Church and was the 2nd Troop in Bartlesville and is continuing this year and is celebrating a 100 years in existence in 2020.
1947—Bartlesville Radio Station KWON began broadcasting the Sunday morning Worship Services to the listening area. The church paid $72/annually for this service.
1963—One of the most renowned handbell choirs in the nation was started here in Bartlesville under the direction of W. D. McKeehan and with the donation of the Easter Family Memorial Handbells.
1964— Several First Methodist women (Mildred Reusser, Esther Carlton, Louise Lanning, and Elizabeth Doenges) began a unique and significant mission project–MUTUAL (Methodist United To Use Applied Love) Girls Club. The purpose was to teach Christian values and living skills while providing wholesome activities for girls from lower-income families. MUTUAL Girls Club continues strong today. However, the mission has expanded to include helping women, as well as young girls.
1967—Concern (Churches for Community Concern) was organized by FUMC and invited other local churches to join to help alleviate poverty in Bartlesville. Concern has grown to over 17 local churches participating. In 1977 a childcare center was added. Concern continues strong today assisting needy families in Bartlesville.
1974—In June 1974 at 7:30 a.m. every Sunday at Hilltop Drive-In (the outdoor movie theater) on Nowata Road, people were invited to “come as you are, and come in your car” to church. This unique ministry was initiated by Rev. M.O. Smith. After Hilltop closed, the church members vowed to continue the drive-in church and it was moved to Eastland Shopping Center. This tradition continued in Bartlesville until sometime after 2000.
1983—Easter Services were televised for the first time on the local cable television. In June 1983, the 11 a.m. the service was videotaped for rebroadcasting later. Soon after, an anonymous donor gave funds for the church’s own television equipment for a televised ministry which was started in November 1983. At one point, OCU students surveyed the members and determine that over 1,000 of our church members regularly watched the Sunday worship services. Today, the televised ministry has been discontinued, but has progressed to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.