METHODISM IN MISSOURI AND ST. JOSEPH
Under colonial rule by Spain and France, only Roman Catholics were allowed to own land and practice their faith in what is now Missouri. These rules were relaxed in 1795 and disappeared when the area became United States territory through the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. By 1806 two circuits had been organized to serve 106 Methodists living in the Territory of Missouri. When statehood was granted in 1824, Missouri had a population of 66,000, of which 1,543 were Methodist.
In 1826, Joseph Robidoux, a French fur trapper opened a trading post on the Missouri River at the foot of what is now Jules Street in Indian territory. The six counties comprising Northwest Missouri were added to the state as the Platte Purchase and opened for settlement in 1836, after which a small town grew around the trading post. One of the first families to arrive was Simeon and Jane Anne Kemper and their infant daughter. They came by riverboat from Kentucky by way of Liberty, Missouri in 1839.
Mrs. Kemper was a staunch Methodist and longed to worship with people who shared her faith.
She found John Carter and they found three others which became the nucleus of a Methodist class. They began meeting above David Heaton’s cabinet shop at Main and Jules streets in 1843, the year in which St. Joseph was incorporated with a population of about 200. Carter held the position of class leader until it became a society or church in 1844. Two years later, the young church constructed the first brick church in St. Joseph on a corner lot at 3rd and Felix streets, donated by Robidoux, who although a Roman Catholic, recognized the value of churches in every town.
One of the unfortunate schisms in Methodism occurred over slavery in 1844. Churches in slaveholding states became part of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to which this local church united. Methodists in St. Joseph continued to worship together until 1849, when a local preacher and four other members withdrew and re-organized the Methodist Episcopal Church. That congregation worshipped in several locations until purchasing and refitting a former theatre on Fifth Street, north of Francis. It was known as the Fifth Street or Union Methodist Episcopal Church until adopting the name First Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1890’s. That congregation built a new building on the southeast corner of 8th and Faraon in 1909.
The original church erected a second building on the northwest corner of 7th and Francis streets in 1857. In 1864, it adopted the name “Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church, South.” In 1906, the congregation erected a new building on the southwest corner of 12th & Francis streets. These congregations were responsible for helping organize and finance new Methodist churches in St. Joseph’s outlying neighborhoods.
The membership in both churches declined with the population and economic profile of the central city, and by 1995, the decision was made that one strong church would make better use of resources instead of two. This resulted in a merger creating the Francis Street First United Methodist Church, utilizing the former Francis Street church facility at 12th and Francis streets.
THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Over two hundred years, some unfortunate fractures developed over slavery and polity, resulting in new denominations. However, in 1939, three of these bodies merged to form “The Methodist Church.” The “United Methodist Church” was formed by a merger with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. Today, there are 8 million United Methodists in the United States, making it the second largest protestant denomination behind the Baptists. The Wesleyan movement claims more than 18 million members in various churches worldwide.
The United Methodist Church is considered part of America’s “mainline” Protestantism. Methodists are united by John Wesley’s original 25 articles of faith contained in the Book of Discipline, which provides the denominational structure. For additional information visit the denomination web site at www.umc.org.