First United Methodist Church plans 190th year celebration

Published 12:07 pm Thursday, October 5, 2023

First United Methodist Church of Elizabethton will celebrate its 190th birthday Sunday, Oct. 15, in a service beginning at 10 a.m. The church had its origin in 1833, moving to different locations in its earlier years.
Church historian Jean Madgett along with youth leaders Jennifer Bradley and Sasan Ahovan have been collecting pictures and articles to present with a power point presentation during the service. The youth members of the church are being encouraged to participate and learn more about the history of the church and the congregations that participated during those 190 years.
Also, First United Methodist Church member Dick Ryan is helping coordinate the event.
According to information supplied by Ryan the earliest record of the activities of the Methodists of Carter County is found in a few references to personnel and the geography of the area as recorded in Bishop Francis Asbury’s Journal. He made seven trips to the Overmountain country between 1788 and 1796. Unlike other sections of East Tennessee, Carter County was not greatly influenced by the Presbyterians. No schools were established, only one congregation, the Elizabethton church, was established in the county.
The Methodists in the country spread from the town center. Elizabethton became the circuit headquarters, and from here Methodists radiated into various communities in the court. Until about 1820 Duffield Academy served as a “Union Church” where all the people came together to hear any preacher who happened to come into the town.
The Methodists soon made efforts to establish a meeting place of their own. John Singletary, a local preacher and a hatter by trade, took the lead in constructing a log cabin on North Main Street in 1820. This structure was on a lot donated by Singletary and as remembered was about 25 by 50 feet, including 10 windows and had a double belfry. Until after 1850 this remained the Methodist house of worship.
Under the direction of Singletary and Albert Tipton, another local preacher, a more imposing house of worship was begun on First Street across from Duffield Academy on a lot donated by Singletary. Much of the work was accomplished by Joe Campbell, a slave, and the brick work was done by John May of Jonesboro and John Collins of Stoney Creek.
Singletary was born in 1803 and married Ann Johnson, a distant relative of President Andrew Johnson.
The Civil War, which divided the nation as well as families, also split the Elizabethton Methodist Church. The northern part of the congregation remained on First Street, and the southern Methodists moved to the Presbyterian church until 1888 when they built their own brick church on Second Street. In 1913 the northern Methodists built a large brick church on F Street which became known as Singletary Memorial. In 1936, Singletary was dropped from the name, and the church was known as Memorial Methodist Church.
The southern congregation continued to meet on Second Street in the present St. Thomas Episcopal Church building until 1924, when a new church was begun on E Street, which is now First United Methodist Church.
Beginning in 1939, following a new generation of members in each church, the two congregations began having some services together, including Sunday night worship, revivals, and Vacation Bible School. Soon, the two congregations merged, and in September 1944, met to select a new name for the group, selecting First Methodist Church.
Thus, some 80 years after the Civil War, and with a new congregation of members, the factions that had so divided the congregation had been forgotten, and now the church was one again. The combined membership was 950.
The union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968 gave the present name United Methodist Church to the congregation.
More recent highlights include the Memory Garden in the church courtyard as well as the installation of an elevator in 1995.
In 1997, the widow of Judge Raymond Campbell donated funds to erect a steeple on the church – a longtime dream of the Judge.
As one member noted, “We have all dreamed and worshiped together; sung and prayed together; working and laughing and sometimes grieving and crying together in this great fellowship that is First United Methodist Church.”
Madgett noted that five generations of the Taylor family have attended the local Methodist Church – Carrie Taylor, her daughter, Patsy Taylor Goddard Longmire, Patsy’s daughter, Jennnifer Goddard Birchfield Fleming, her daughter, Ashley Birchfield Blevins, and Ashley’s children, Andrew Blevins, Jack Blevins, and Kate Blevins. With the exception of Carrie, who is deceased, all still attend church at First United Methodist.
The present pastor at First United Methodist is Robert Countiss.

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