First United Methodist Church of Mesa is an historic downtown church that has not only served God for 128 years but also has numbered among its members people who have served as leaders in building Mesa and Arizona. While the campus has grown over the years, it is the oldest church campus in continuous operation in Mesa.
The church traces its roots to Sunday school meetings begun in 1892. Dr. E.W. Wilbur initiated the Sunday School meetings and held them in his barn on the southeast corner of what is now Main St. and Stapley Road.
On April 20, 1893, Wilbur, a medical doctor, paid $300 for two parcels of land bounded on the north by 1st Ave. In less than two years the land would become the downtown home of First Methodist Episcopal Church of Mesa. The north boundary of the two lots is where the columbarium stands today. It did not include the corner lot where the current church stands.
The church was chartered in 1893 with nine adults and six children. The one room, brick-and-mortar church built in 1894 was the first permanent church structure in Mesa. It stood where the church columbarium is today. The first Baptist Church in Mesa was built nearby in 1895. The first Mormon tabernacle in Mesa was built in 1896 on 1st Ave. and Morris and was the Mormons’ first permanent church structure.
At the time the church was built, Mesa was a small village. The 1900 Census records a Mesa population of 722. Though the campus has grown over time, our campus is the oldest church campus in continuous use in the city of Mesa.
The first pastor was Rev. Fred Sheldon who split his duties between Mesa and the Methodist Church in Tempe. In 1899, the church got its first full-time pastor. His name was Rev. Edwin G. Decker.
The second church was built in 1913 in just three months on the site of the 1893 church and used some building materials from the first church. Members hauled sand and gravel from the Salt River for concrete for the second church. The bell tower on the columbarium is from the 1913 church.
The church sponsored Mesa’s first Boy Scout Troop. Initially, called Scout Troop 1 then Troop 51, today it is called Troop 451. First Methodist Episcopal Church of Mesa also helped establish Spanish- speaking El Redentor Methodist Church in the 1920s and a Japanese Methodist Church (Okuda Memorial) in 1933. Neither church exists today.
In 1945 the church changed its name to First Methodist Church of Mesa. The second church building served the needs of the congregation until after World War II when Americans began migrating to the Southwest and Mesa in large numbers.
A fundraising campaign to build the current church was begun in 1949. The corner property was purchased for $56,000 provided by a memorial gift from the John Dobson family. The 120-foot tower is a prominent feature in downtown Mesa across the street from the stunning Mesa Arts Center. It was the first part of the new church to be completed. The congregation began using the sanctuary in 1954, though it was not dedicated until 1958 after the debt had been retired.
Our church was designed by Mesa architect Martin Ray Young Jr.. An excerpt from the dedication says this about the church’s design: “The building design expresses aspiration. The lines have an upward trend, expressing faith and praise in a material world..”
The final phase of the church project, where today’s Sunday School classes are held and Earl North Fellowship Hall is, was begun in 1959 and completed in the winter of 1960.
An arson fire in 1974 cost $500,000 in repairs. The church’s Centennial Organ was dedicated in 1993 and cost $440,000. The organ remains the centerpiece of the church’s renowned music program.
The 1913 church, which in later life had served a Tongan congregation and the Boy Scout troop, was decommissioned in 1999 and razed.
The Columbarium and memorial garden was dedicated in 2001 in memory of Charles and Florence Mitten. The Mildred Fitch Family Life Center was dedicated on Feb. 29, 2004.
First United Methodist Church of Mesa has been called the mother of East Valley Methodist Churches because of the number churches it helped form in residential neighborhoods. But the beautiful and traditional downtown church just south of the Mesa Arts Center continues to attract worshipers from throughout the East Valley.
The message from the pulpit and our Sunday School programs is modern, but our setting is historic. Please join us and see for yourself what we have to offer.
Read our mission, vision and core values and come join us if even a bit of it resonates with you (or come join us even if none of it does!).