The first Methodist service in Muskegon was held in the dining room of Martin Ryerson’s boarding house in 1843, conducted by Rev. M. Warring. Although intermittent in nature and attendance, the congregation eventually grew to about 25+ and started to meet more regularly in a school house at Terrace and Clay, but itinerant preachers were still the rule of the day.
By November 20, 1856, the church was formally recognized by the Methodist Conference and was assigned a regular pastor; and they started to look for a permanent home.
The first Methodist church (of white wooden construction) was built in 1857 on the NE corner of Clay & Jefferson and remained there until 1888. The bell in this building’s 70-foot belfry weighed 1900+ pounds and was used as the city fire alarm for 24 years.
The second building was the red brick building erected in 1888 on the same corner, now facing Jefferson, and was ‘triumphantly debt-free’ due to donations, subscriptions, and collections. The big bell went along too, now up in a 106-foot steeple. With the economic growth of the lumber industry after WWI, the church started to experience growing pains again, and between 1923-27, membership went from 776 to 945 and Sunday school went from 675 to 820. It soon became apparent that a newer, larger building was needed, and property was purchased on Second Street between Muskegon and Webster Avenues.
Architecture plans were secured from the Bureau of Architecture of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, a fundraising campaign was launched, and a contractor selected. The groundbreaking took place on October 11, 1928. Work stopped for winter, of course, but began again in April 1929. The cornerstone (with contents from the cornerstone of the red brick church) was laid on May 19th. The last service in the old church was held on June 29th and services were temporarily held in the Muskegon High School auditorium for a few months until the first service was held in the Parish Hall of the new building on October 6, 1929. The red brick church was eventually demolished and ‘the beloved bell sent off ignominiously to scrap.’ This property is now occupied by Carmen’s Café.
Unfortunately, just three weeks later, the Stock Market began to crash on 10/24/1929 and continued for the next five days. But the congregation persevered and the first service in the Sanctuary was held on Sunday, March 23, 1930 after a week-long series of celebratory events, and the new Second Street building was dedicated to the glory of God by Bishop Thomas Nicholson of Detroit. On the back of the Dedication Souvenir booklet, it says, ‘We face the future hoping the church may prove to be a beacon light showing the way to God and a haven where sin-sick souls may find peace and the weary rest.’
Predictably, the depression took its toll on Central Methodist Episcopal Church until a total debt of $200,000 was amassed. In 1934, five families mortgaged their homes and donated the proceeds to stave off foreclosure; but even with that help, it took another 10 years to completely retire the debt in 1944.
In just eight years, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of three important dates in the life of our church: the Groundbreaking in 1928, the Cornerstone being laid in 1929, and Dedication of the Building in 1930.