Remembering Centennial 2015
Our Church began around 1913 with the first service being held on the east bank of the Pithlachascotee River where our ancestors sat on wooden benches under the trees. The excitement of a religious service spread quickly throughout the community. Much like our services today, the settlers gathered to hear a message of encouragement and hope from the scriptures, sing hymns, and offer prayers. All denominations were welcomed and sermons were delivered by visiting pastors.
Then on February 1, 1915, the community of citizens set forth to build the first Methodist Episcopal Church South in New Port Richey. Contributions of labor, materials, and money came from a dedicated community looking forward to having a place to worship, learn and grow in their understanding of the Lord. From 1928 through the 1930s the stress and trials of the depression years affected all aspects of life, including churches. Revivals, prayer meetings, “pitch-in dinners”, and the inspiring messages of ministers held God’s influence high in the hearts and lives of the congregation. Attendance continued to grow, Sunday school class turnout increased, and Vacation Church School began. The first Easter Sunrise Service was held in New Port Richey in concert with other congregations and frequent fellowship dinners took place to raise money to support the growing needs of the church. In 1940 the Elfers Methodist Episcopal Church merged with the New Port Richey Methodist Episcopal Church, South. During the early years of the 1940s, as WWII was in progress, the Church contributed to war relief efforts by providing many programs and services to support our troops. Also realizing the need to spread the gospel to other souls, an inter-denominational “cottage prayer meeting” program was started to reach homes and persons unable to attend church.
In 1955 our church participated in the National Prayer Life Movement of the Methodist Church. The chain dates for our church included ninety-six prayer spaces to be filled in a twenty-four-hour period. The church remained open so that the congregation could pray at their chosen time. Worship service attendance and participation in church programs continued to grow indicating a spiritual “uplifting” in people’s lives. The Church building was often used by the community for their activities. The Wee Wisdom Kindergarten School opened in 1958, a Christian-inspired program, providing for fifteen children aged three to four years, and for fifty years was recognized as the best preschool in New Port Richey. In 1956 the growing need for space in the Methodist Church of New Port Richey was very great.
The hopes and dreams for a new Sanctuary were realized in 1962 and on April 5, 1964, a celebration was held for the Cornerstone to be placed on the front of the new Sanctuary. The Sanctuary displays spectacular stained glass windows, including a breathtaking large round window of Jesus. During the years improvements to the Sanctuary were generously bestowed by members of the congregation and are identified by plaques that denote the donor. A set of Schulmerich Carillons were donated. The chimes now ring out at 10:30 AM on Sundays and weekdays at noon and 6:00 PM. The buildings of the church increased as needs grew. On July 25, 1968, the Church name officially became First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey.
In the mid-1990s our church began our “Pumpkin Patch” to sell pumpkins. The “Pumpkin Patch” fundraiser has grown and grown developing into a community Fall Festival. Throughout the First United Methodist Church building, it is important to take notice of the numerous plaques. Many are dedicated to people who through the early years of our church worked joyously and tirelessly to the Glory of God to meet the needs of the Church. As the years advance to 2015, the First United Methodist Church has made many changes to meet the needs of its congregation, community, and mission work.
In 2015 the First United Methodist Church celebrated its centennial. The theme for the celebration would be “Heritage, Faith, Challenge”, in recognition of our past, present and future dedication to serving Our Father and His Son. It was decided there would be one church service at 10:30 am on February 1 and 8, and a Centennial Dinner and Program at 5:00 pm on February 7, 2015. Fourteen inspired and loyal church members were chosen to serve on the Centennial Committee to share their ideas, talents, and time and to guide an enthusiastic congregation in the preparation for the Centennial Celebration. On February 1 a service was held with Bishop Ken Carter, District Superintendent John Powers and Pastor Betty Batey presiding. Centennial banners and a Centennial Plaque were presented and dedicated. Then on February 7 a Centennial Dinner was held in our beautifully decorated-remodeled Henderson Hall. Many former ministers of “First Church”, the congregation, friends and families enjoyed a delicious covered-dish meal in the Methodist tradition. Following the meal was a fun, lively and memorable program of music, singing, touching stories by church families, a slide show, the recognition of members with long-time service, and a skit presented by the Youth. A joyous celebration was enjoyed by all.
On February 8 at our Centennial Service former Pastors and the congregation shared memories, a booklet “Letters of Reflection“ was presented, and “Shall We Meet at the River” was played on a 1920s foot-pump organ used in the 1915 church and a stained-glass window from the 1915 church was presented. Our many talented choirs, vocalist, and musicians lifted us up in song.
Throughout the 100 years of the First United Methodist Church of New Port Richey, the congregations have been very blessed with outstanding pastors to guide, advise and inspire us. The First Church congregation has prospered, continues to grow in the lessons taught by Jesus in the Bible and inspires us to live a Godly life. The First United Methodist Church New Port Richey congregation and friends will remember the fellowship, fun, and celebration of our 100th Birthday and the gift of “Heritage, Faith, Challenge” given to us by our forefathers.