First United Methodist Church
Friday, March 31, 2023
People with Heart in the Heart of the City
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The sanctuary was dedicated in January of 1951, but already the church had outgrown its building.  The Sunday school had grown into the parsonage kitchen and bedrooms, pushing the pastor’s family out of its home. It was evident that other living arrangements must be made for the parsonage family, so once again the Methodists were developing plans for more building.  The pastor’s report of 1950 showed membership of 262 with 112 of those people received into membership that year!

 In May of 1951 the Rev. Bruce Groseclose and family arrived to lead the church.  They too, shared their home with church meetings and Sunday school classes.  During 1952, 139 members were taken in.  The Methodist Men reported 75 members and WSCS was active.  A Wesleyan Service Guild had been organized.  The pastor reported that the main problems were “space and turnover”.

In 1953 the new parsonage was completed on L Street on lots contributed by the Arthur Waldron family.  July 1953 saw the church again hosting the annual Alaska conference shortly after the eruption of Mt. Spur.  Volcanic ash covered everything and it was tracked in but never out!

June Marks came as a parish worker for the year 1953-54 giving her efforts to youth work and starting the summer camp at Hope.  It was first used in 1954, a real wilderness camp for youth.

In 1954 Rev. Groseclose reported to the annual meeting that a total of 1,000 persons had attended the Easter Services.  Seventy-two new members were received on Palm Sunday as a result of the Visitation-Evangelism Crusade.  Anchorage had been chosen as the site of the New Methodist College.

With Rev. Groseclose leaving in June of 1954 the Rev. David Blackburn served as pastor until the arrival of Rev. Fred McGinnis in September of that year.  Due to increasing potential for Methodist work here an associate pastor was added, and Rev. Bob Havens took charge of the Youth program for a year.

 During 1955 the church school was staffed with 45 officers and teachers.  There were three worship services on Sunday, two in the morning and one in the evening.  Seven more lots were purchased on 9th Avenue.  Three adjoined the original three to the west, and four more were located across H Street.  These were to provide space for a new sanctuary and parking.  Plans were drawn and re-drawn.  In 1955 the name of First United Methodist Church became legal, though it had been used since Rev. Purviance served.

Rev. McGinnis also served as Mission Superintendent during the latter part of his ministry here.  In June 1955, Richard K. Heacock came as associate pastor replacing Robert Havens.  He soon moved his family into the old Presbyterian Manse which had been moved temporarily to our newly purchased lots west of the Baxter Building.  A total of 725 members were reported to conference in 1956.

 In March 1957, Warren W. Peters came to serve as pastor.  There were two old Quonset huts on the lots where the new church was to be located.  The call went out for volunteers to demolish them.  Work was begun on a building which was estimated to cost $150,000.  After footing foundations and basement were in, the estimate was raised to $172,000, but the lob bid was $230,000.  What to do?  Obviously Baxter was no longer adequate, and with Anchor Park and Chugiak Methodist Churches starting members were able to worship in places closer to their homes.  Also, a new parish was being proposed for the Turnagain area.  Finally, a loan was secured and construction proceeded on the new fine sanctuary.  Membership at this time was over 500.

Also, in 1957, through the leadership of Gordon Gould Alaska Methodist University was founded in Anchorage.  The Methodist men’s Club gave money for books as well as other support.  In October of 1958 the Turnagain Methodist Church was started and again some members from First Church transferred.

In June 1958, Rev. Harold Diehl had the responsibility of Pastor for our congregation and overseeing the construction completion.  He climbed many a ladder to help with the wiring and painting.  On Christmas Sunday, December 21, the present sanctuary was dedicated in a service lead by Bishop Raymond Grant, Superintendent McGinnis and pastor Diehl.  The building was valued at $240,000 and seated 660 persons. 

Alaska Statehood was being proposed in Congress and became a reality in January 1959.

David Fison came as associate pastor in June 1960 as it was felt the constant rotation of membership and increasing responsibilities were too much for one pastor.  In May of that year, church property was valued at $485,000 and the church had paid for all purposes that year a total of $48,853.  The WSCS membership was 105; 434 were enrolled in Sunday School; there were two certified lay speakers and four were recommended to the conference for “license to preach”.

This sounds as if First Church was really “going”.  Rev. Roger Thompson arrived in June 1961 as the new pastor.  His report to conference in 1964 said, “Our lay leader left and has not been replaced; evangelism lost two chairmen, Methodist Men and WSCS their presidents, and we are on our third secretary and fourth sexton”.  This has been the usual refrain over the years, not his alone.

In 1963, Eugene Groves came as associate pastor and helped in many ways working with the Sunday School, youth and older young people and in calling.  The fact that he was married just before leaving First Church indicates some effectiveness of his ministry.

The parsonage committee reported an immediate need for better housing accommodations, and Sunday School was finding Baxter hall entirely inadequate for its classes.

On March 27, 1964, the evening of Good Friday, Anchorage and Alaska was twisted, rattled and wrenched by a tremendous earthquake.  The Sanctuary chimney was damaged and the Baxter chimney had to be removed.  Various other damage and equipment was repaired or replaced to the amount of $15,000.  How lucky we had been!  Gifts from friends in the “lower 48” made immediate repairs possible.  The main concern was in the property losses of the members.  Easter Sunday services were rather somber with no Easter finery worn but all were grateful to be alive.

In October of that year the church celebrated its 20th Anniversary.  Its goal had been gain 20 couples into membership.  Forty-eight persons were received into full membership and twelve into preparatory membership.  A banquet was held at AMU in celebration with Bishop Grant as guest speaker.

Rev. Thompson’s report for 1965 was optimistic. The Sunday School teaching staff has been consistent, with less turn-over than any of the last four years.  Due to crowded conditions (an average attendance of 200) a second session was added at 1:00 pm for nursery through primary grades and a second nursery established.  The pressing need is for more space.  The year saw 170 people join the church while 74 left.  The two ministers performed 58 weddings, conducted 27 funerals and 48 baptisms.  The every member canvas resulted in 228 pledges totaling $71,800.  This year the church furnishings were secured: 46 pews, 2 screens, pulpit, lectern and altar for Easter Services.  The pews were paid for by gifts of individual members.

In 1966, one parking lot west of H Street was traded for a lot on 8th Avenue across the alley from the Church property.  Reverend Donald Hartman came as associate pastor in 1966.  Weddings increased to 95, mostly of non-member couples.  Only two members died this year of a membership of slightly over 900.  The 1966 pastor’s report indicates that if all the members received during his six years of pastorate had remained, there would now be a membership of 1500!  he also indicated that “unless First Methodist improves its facility it will slip to a position of a weak community church, losing its place as a leading church in Anchorage”.   It was an active year for the Methodist Men.  They served the Mother-Daughter banquet, sponsored Boy Scouts, put on a dinner dance, held a family picnic, a watch night party, contributed books to AMU library, and bought two pews for the new church.

In 1967, Roger Thompson decided to return to his home conference and Rev. Eugene Walters was transferred from the Fairbanks church to First Church.  During his pastorate, the church had the opportunity to buy two lots at 8th and G next to the one already owned.  This was done with the understanding that the three lots west of H Street could eventually be developed or sold.  It also seemed in order to continue using Baxter hall for the present until the financial situation improved even though that space was inadequate.


 On October 30, 1969, First Church celebrated its 25th anniversary with a banquet held in the First Presbyterian Church dining room at 10th & G Street with Rev. Fred Bruce Bartel came as associate pastor in 1970 for one year and also served as part-time pastor in Girdwood.