The Methodist Temple Story

Eight Decades of History

Methodist Temple has a rich history in the Evansville Community. The first worship service in our current sanctuary was held on July 2, 1950; and the new church was consecrated by Bishop Richard C. Raines on Sunday, October 1, 1950. The congregation’s history, however, is much older than the building’s. The congregation of the Methodist Temple was the result of the merger on Easter Sunday 1937 of two churches-Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal Church and Bayard Park Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal Church

Fourth Street had its origin in 1843, when the Rev. Peter Schmucker, a circuit rider of the Central German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, met with a small group of German-speaking Christians in the Evansville tavern of Konrad Muth. The fifteen charter members of the First German Methodist Episcopal Church of Evansville included Muth, whose conversion made it awkward for him to continue to operate a tavern. Muth sold the tavern, and the young congregation lost its meeting place. A log church was built in 1844 on Vine Street between Second and Third Streets.

In 1865 the growing congregation purchased a lot at Fourth and Vine Streets for $3,000. This lot was the site of the old pioneer cemetery, but the remains had been moved and reburied. The lot faced one of the unloading basins of the Wabash and Erie Canal, which was no longer in use. (The present-day “Old Vanderburgh County Courthouse” was built on the site of the basin in 1878.)

The congregation moved into its new brick church in the fall of 1867. The church, parsonage, and lot cost $37,624. A Methodist Church cannot be “dedicated” until it has been paid for fully. First German M.E. was probably unique in that it held the first worship service in the new building on November 3, 1867, and paid off the mortgage before the next Sunday. The church was dedicated on November 10, 1867, by Dr. Wilhelm Nast of Cincinnati, who directed the circuit preachers of the Central German Conference.

The final worship service at Fourth Street was held on Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937. A merger agreement between Fourth Street and Bayard Park Methodist Episcopal Church became effective with the first joint worship service on Easter Sunday, 1937.

During World War I (1914-1918), Americans in general became suspicious and hostile toward all things German. First German M. E. changed its name to Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal Church and began holding its services in English instead of German. The August 1915 minutes of the Women’s Foreign Missions Society were written in German; the minutes of the next meeting, in November 1915, were written in English by the same secretary.

The final worship service at Fourth Street was held on Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937. A merger agreement between Fourth Street and Bayard Park Methodist Episcopal Church became effective with the first joint worship service on Easter Sunday, 1937. The pulpit from Fourth Street was kept and is now used in the Chapel. Spindles from the Communion rail were made into candle stands which are occasionally used in Sanctuary decorations. The larger of the two bells in the steeple was kept and installed in Methodist Temple’s bell tower during the construction. In 1952 Earl Hay and Earl Bartlett built a framework to support the bell and hung the bell so it could be rung again.

Bayard Park Methodist Episcopal Church

Bayard Park M. E. was a mission church founded by Trinity Methodist Episcopal. In 1906 Trinity’s minister, the Rev. M. A. Farr, organized the “East Side Ladies’ Aid Society” for members of his congregation who lived far out on the east side and thought Trinity was “a long way away.” Kentucky Avenue was the eastern boundary of the city, but most women had to walk or take a streetcar to attend a meeting. This women’s group (the forerunner of the United Methodist Women) proved so popular that a full church was organized. Bayard Park Methodist Episcopal Church, at the corner of Blackford and Evans, was begun in 1908 and was opened on February 21, 1909. Part of the early membership and part of the money for Bayard Park’s building fund came from Kingsley M. E. Church, which had been founded in 1869 at Kingsley and Cross Streets but was being disbanded as Bayard Park was being planned. The location today is that of Impact Ministries in the former Central Turners building at Eighth and Gum Streets. Bayard Park had its own minister, the Rev. Leander T. Freeland, appointed by April of 1909. A new Sunday School addition was built in 1919.

Three branches of American Methodism-the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church-merged in 1939, and the new denominational name was the Methodist Church. Part of the merger agreement between Bayard Park and Fourth Street stipulated that the joint congregation build a new church farther out on the east side. Land was purchased at Lincoln and Kelsey in 1941, but the building process had to be put on hold during World War II. Then on November 15, 1947, the Bayard Park building was sold to the Church of the Nazarene with transfer of occupancy set for November 1949. The pulpit and Communion table from Bayard Park were kept for use in the new building. The pulpit, without the Bible stand on top, is used in the Narthex. The Communion table is now the Communion table in the Chapel.

The Start of Methodist Temple

Ground was broken for the new church in January 1949 and the cornerstone was laid March 20, 1949, but the building was not finished by November. The congregation met at Evansville College (presently the University of Evansville) from November 1949 through June 1950. Worship services were conducted in the Auditorium of the Administration Building, and Sunday School classes were held in classrooms. The congregation’s name was officially changed to The Methodist Temple on June 1, 1950. The first worship service was held in the new building on July 2, 1950, with about 800 people attending. (The official capacity of the Sanctuary was 650.) The Rev. Harry 0. Kisner was the last pastor of Bayard Park and the first of Methodist Temple. The church was consecrated on October 1, 1950. The new parsonage at 618 S. Frederick was consecrated on October 15, 1950, and the Kilgen pipe organ was installed in 1952.

The first worship service was held in the new building on July 2, 1950, with about 800 people attending.

Most of the stained-glass windows were installed after the rest of the sanctuary had been completed. Only the blood-red Cross Window, which faces Lincoln Avenue, was installed during the construction in 1950. The Rose Window (above the present organ) in the Chancel was made by the Emil Frei Studio in St. Louis and was installed on November 1, 1951. All the other windows were made by the Winterich Studio in Cleveland and were installed in January of 1953. The ten windows in the west wall depict the Parables. On the east side, the ten upper windows represent the Beatitudes, and the six lower windows show scenes from the life of Jesus.

The first mortgage on Methodist Temple was burned and the church was officially dedicated on November 22, 1953.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Methodist Temple became a large congregation of 2000+ members.

The original building included the Sanctuary and what used to be called the main hall and west wing. The fellowship hall was the room later used for the library. There had been general agreement in 1949 that the new building would not have enough classrooms, but the addition which included the current Fellowship Hall, large kitchen, Parlor, basement, and upstairs classrooms had to wait until the first mortgage had been paid. A second capital campaign was launched in 1953, and the addition was completed in 1955. The Women’s Society of Christian Service (W.S.C.S.) held its first White Breakfast in the barely finished Fellowship Hall on Good Friday, 1955. The second mortgage was paid and Methodist Temple was rededicated on January 31, 1962.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Methodist Temple became a large congregation of 2000+ members; it was common for new-member and Confirmation classes to stretch across the front of the Sanctuary. To relieve the crowding in the Sanctuary and to extend Methodism into the ever-growing east side of Evansville, Methodist Temple sponsored Fairlawn Methodist Church in 1957 on the southeast side and Aldersgate Methodist Church on Lincoln Avenue east of Green River Road in 1964.

Temple Hills Retreat Center Addition

In September 1966 Clement Pirkle donated forty acres in Pike County, Indiana, to Methodist Temple for a retreat center. The church was later able to add an adjoining eighty acres, and the beautiful Temple Hills came into being. It features a lodge with sleeping quarters and showers, camping facilities with electric hookups, a primitive camping area, lake, and hiking trails.

Church Renovations

Fundraising for a Sanctuary renovation began seriously in 1989. The budget for a new organ and refurbished Sanctuary was slightly in excess of half a million dollars. In 1991 a German Walcker organ, Opus 5900, with 3,027 pipes in 56 ranks and 42 stops was installed. The chimes from the 1952 organ were incorporated into the new instrument. Then began the drive to remodel the rest of the church building, add a new wing to the Day Care and Children’s Church School area, and install a much-needed elevator. The plan included new electrical wiring, complete reconfiguration of the main-hall rooms, remodeled classrooms and kitchenettes, a Celebration Center, Atrium, and a new Chapel. The Sampson Hall and Gallery, along the east wall of the Sanctuary, was added to provide an all-weather walkway connecting the Narthex with the rest of the church and to display memorial works of art. The parlor was redecorated and named the Bishop John L. Hopkins Parlor in honor of the pastor who promoted the total renovation project; he left in the summer of 1996 after being elected bishop and appointed to Minnesota. The remodeling of the existing children’s classrooms was completed in April 1994. On February 5, 1995, the elevator, parlor, restrooms, and adult classroom area were consecrated. Groundbreaking for the new children’s wing and expanded parking lot was held on July 23, 1995; and Celebration Sunday for completion of the last phase of the remodeling was April 13, 1997.

In 1999 the Edith Porter Remembrance Garden was created at the northwest side of the church. Financed by part of Edith Porter’s bequest to Methodist Temple, this beautiful garden – including a fountain and a sidewalk with commemorative bricks— welcomes all who enter the church on the west side.

Every Member in Minstry

As the congregation of the Methodist Temple completed its first fifty years, it had a membership of about 1,100 and strong leadership to keep the church vital. The people of the Methodist Temple take seriously their vision of “Every Member in Ministry.” This congregation received the first special award from the Tri-State Food Pantry for the strongest support by any area church. In 1991 the Buffalo Trace Council of the Boy Scouts of America presented to Methodist Temple the first Chartered Partner Award for outstanding support of Scouting since Bayard Park began sponsoring the first Boy Scout troop in Evansville in 1911. Temple Airs, a big-band group started at Methodist Temple in 1982, has raised over $4 million for charities in the tri-state.

In working at the soup kitchen and food pantry, in helping to build Habitat homes, in sending youth and adult work teams for mission projects, and in going online with a website on the Internet, this church reached out to others to share the love of Jesus Christ. Through service, study, and worship, the people of Methodist Temple build friendships and enrich their fellowship of faith.

The story has only begun!

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