Celebrating our 200th year in 2017, the history of the United Methodist Church of Livonia is long. Throughout the years, however, the focus of the church has remained the same. “Making Disciples, Changing the World.” Over the two centuries, there have been changes in meeting location, building type and construction, and renovations along the way. What has remained constant over these many years is the focus on the Lord, Jesus, his son, serving the community with hospitality and helping those in need, and reaching out beyond the community and into the world through missions.
Historical Milestones 1800’s
Methodist Circuit Riders of the Genesee Conference started the first Methodist Society in Livonia with twenty people in 1817. Their meetings were first at Hemlock Lake. Jesse Blake had a home with a barn and cider mill on the northeast corner of Adams and Federal Roads where meetings were held in his barn until 1830.
In 1830 a meeting house was built. It was here that the first Methodist Episcopal Church of Livonia was organized. In 1831, the Methodist Episcopal Church of Livonia was incorporated under the leadership of Jesse and Ruel Blake and Frederick Hone, Stewards; Gideon Lanning, Preacher in Charge; and Wilbur Hoag, Assistant Pastor.
The early church was a “square wooden building, painted white and had two rows of windows. The high box pews had doors that fastened and a gallery ran around three sides. The pulpit, which was half way between the floor and the ceiling, was curtained so that only the head and shoulders of the preacher were visible to the congregation. It was heated by two box stoves with stovepipes running the length of the church. The men sat on one side and the women on the other.”
Between 1832 and 1855 the church was affiliated with the Lima Methodist Church and other churches in Geneseo, West Mendon and Rush. By 1855 the congregation became so small that services were discontinued for two years, but then the Society reorganized in 1857 and continued in the meeting house until 1859. The meeting house was then sold with a plan to build a Church at Livonia Station (now called Livonia). As the church worked towards the new building, the group worshiped in a schoolhouse on the east side of West Avenue.
On property purchased for $300 on the corner of Spring Street and Church Street a new church was built in 1860 costing $1200. It was a small church with one room, facing north (Church Street). There were forty members, an organ replacing the pitch pipe, and a nine member choir. A revival meeting brought 150 converts to the church in 1866. With the need for more space the church renovated the building at a cost of $2,000. A basement was added, the church raised, turned to the east (Spring Street), moved 16 feet and additional space added. This expansion was dedicated in 1867,
The church bell was purchased and the steeple erected in 1872. This church bell is still in service hanging above the entry to the new UMCL building on Summers Street. For more than a hundred years, the bell was rung every Sunday. Although not rung often now, the bell was rung on January 31, 2017, the final day of the church’s 200th year anniversary. Also in 1872 property on Main Street, was purchased for $300 to erect a parsonage for the pastor and his family. The church still owns this property.
In the 1890’s many in the church felt the church should be enlarged and remodeled, others felt that this was an extravagance. Through efforts of the pastor, Rev. Frank Cole, getting “subscriptions” from town people, some giving liberally of their “products and their work” and the Women’s Furnishing Society giving money, the funds were raised to remodel, enlarge, redecorate and refurnish the church. Improvements included new oak pews, matching altar (still in use), collection plates, and the triple stained glass window given by the Christian Endeavor Society. The Christian Endeavor Society was a group of young people that were “an active part of the church and their fine gift is a bright and shining example of their effort.” This window now graces the new church sanctuary on Summers Street. Renovations cost $3,117.56 and were dedicated in 1897.
In1902 the old organ was traded in to purchase a pipe organ for $1,500. This pipe organ has been used continuously since 1902. When the new church was built in 2007, the organ was refurbished by Parsons Pipe Organ Builders, Bristol, NY and moved to the new church sanctuary where it is still in use.
Other renovations included the alcove at the back of the sanctuary in 1915, an addition on the northeast of the building in 1951 adding additional meeting space and basement restrooms. With the addition of a dining room and kitchen renovations and updates in the mid-1950’s, weekly Rotary dinners, which began in 1942, were more easily served. Other basement renovations included room dividers which were used every Sunday to separate the basement area into Sunday School classrooms for each age group.
1968 saw the birth of United Methodist denomination when the former Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church unified at the national conferences which celebrates our Wesleyan heritage. Locally in 1968 the church purchased a vacant grocery store on Main Street converting it to Fellowship Hall equipped with a modern kitchen.
On January 2, 1972, the United Church of Livonia was formed by the merger of the Livonia Community Congregational United Church of Christ and the Livonia United Methodist Church. The building at Spring and Church Street was retained for worship and Sunday School and the congregation retained its membership in the United Methodist denomination.
In 1996 the church purchased the property at 21 Summers Street and worked over 10 years before the new church building was opened in October of 2007. The present church building is modern, with a spacious sanctuary, offices, classrooms, and a large Fellowship Hall with large kitchen where Rotary meals continue to be served more than seventy years after serving the first dinner. With the move to Summers Street, the church name was officially changed to the United Methodist Church of Livonia. The UMCL still owns the original church building on Spring street where a Thrift Shop is located that receives donations of used clothing and house goods, sells them at very reasonable prices, and serves the community in many ways with donations and help.
Since the 1800’s women have been involved in the home church, helping local families in need, and in missions worldwide. In the late 1800’s church women gave money and met monthly to sew for local families and contributed clothing for distribution to needy families.. They held fundraisers and pledged to help build the steeple among other church improvements.
Sunshine Circle began in 1927 as a group for young women (45 years and under), too young to join the “Old Ladies’ Sunday School class.” Through the 1930’s and 40’s as many as 60 met for fellowship, devotion, and learning. The 1944-1945 Sunshine Circle booklet reports that regular meetings were held the fourth Tuesday of the month at 7:45 PM. Refreshments were 25 cents. Projects included bake sales, Christmas work, a May breakfast and a dinner. Devotions came from “The Upper Room.” Each month’s meeting was guided by a scripture. October 24, 1944, “Ye are the Light of the World.” Matt 5:14.
In the 1940’s the Methodist Church (as a whole) organized the Women’s Society of Christian Service, a combination of The Ladies’ Aid Society, The Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society, and The Woman’s Home Missionary Society. Livonia’s church women were involved feeling that these things were part of the “Master’s work.” The weekly Rotary dinners and annual turkey dinner began during this time. In 1958 both women’s organizations united as one organization called the “Women’s Society of Christian Service Sunshine Circle.” Today women (and men) of the UMCL remain involved in service to the community, local ministry to those in need, and to world missions and needs around the world through church ministries and small group ministries.
Sunday School has been a part of the church’s history for a very long time with the first record of Sunday School in 1843. Sunday School was not just for children, but also for adults. Over the years every area of the church was used for Sunday School classes. In the early1900’s classes were held in the kitchen, the main basement room around the furnace for warmth for the children, and in the sanctuary for adult classes. Over the years through the tireless efforts of many, many committed to teaching God’s word, the church school program has continued. Closely graded lessons came from the Commission on Christian Education of the Methodist Church. The 1943 Sunday School Superintendent reported enrollment in Sunday school at 79 with an average attendance of 42 and average offering collected of $2.91. In later years, enrollment of 117 members, officers and teachers was reported. Today’s Sunday School and Small Group program continues the heritage of the past teaching God’s word to children and adults.
Youth have been involved in the church in many ways from raising money in the 1890’s to purchase the stained glass window, to MYF (Methodist Youth Fellowship) in the mid-1900’s, to youth group today. Today (youth group), as in the past, young people attend summer camp, raise money for missions projects, are physically involved in missions outreach, and meet weekly for fellowship, fun and devotions.
Although the church used curriculum supplied by the Methodist denomination, additional resources were often unavailable. When the idea of a lending library surfaced in 1956 at a teacher’s training school at Silver Lake, Livonia Methodist Sunday School teachers were inspired and very soon the church had a library of 260 books mostly purchased with money from regular church school collections. These books served all age levels and even included many publications for teachers. Today the UMCL continues the tradition with a lending library of current publications for children and adults that are relevant to our times.
After using a pitch pipe for a number of years, the church purchased its first organ in 1860, then traded in this organ to purchase a pipe organ in 1902. Music, instrumental and voice, has always been an important part of worship in Livonia. The 1902 pipe organ was totally refurbished and updated by Parsons Pipe Organ Builders, Bristol, NY, when it was moved from the Spring Street church to the new Summers Street building in 2007. This fine instrument has served the church well and continues to be used every Sunday in the traditional service playing hymns and sacred music. Over the years, many have been involved in the music ministry, singing in the choirs, and playing the organ and piano. Many have enjoyed being involved in the church’s music ministry for many years, some singing in the the children’s choir, then in the adult choir. In 1957 a junior choir was started and grew to 21 “white-robed cherubs” singing every third Sunday in the 1960’s. The senior choir began a tradition in the 1950’s of singing a Christmas and Easter cantata, a tradition that continues. Today UMCL has two worship services. The traditional service utilizes the pipe organ for hymns as well as using a piano and sometimes recorded music for the choir anthems. The contemporary worship is led by a praise team with a number of instruments that include guitar, keyboard, drums, and other instruments.
History In Review
The United Methodist Church of Livonia may be “old” with its long history, however, its continued focus on faith in God, discipleship, service to the community and those around us in need, and a desire to spread the Gospel through missions locally and abroad, is as relevant today as it has been throughout its 200 year history.