First United Methodist Church (UMC) Palestine has a long history of service in the community, traced back to about 1836 before Texas was admitted to the United States. Our faith journey began when a Methodist missionary visited Ft. Houston, now a part of Palestine, and a “Methodist Society” with about eight members was organized.
By 1850, Ft. Houston was abandoned and the residents moved to the newly created city of Palestine, about three miles away. The congregation grew from its original eight members to nearly 150 members who worshipped in Bascom Chapel, located in the present-day 800 block of Church St.
As the town grew, so did its churches, and in 1884, the Methodist congregation built a beautiful new church designed by famed architect Nicholas J Clayton. Located on Avenue A near today's fire station, it was named “Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church South” in honor of Methodism’s 100th anniversary in America.
In 1897, the members felt that two Methodist churches were needed to serve the community. The new congregation, after going through a couple of name changes, is today’s Grace United Methodist Church. Centenary, however, retained its name even after building and moving to its new and present location on South Magnolia in 1911. It wasn’t until 1918 that this congregation began referring to itself as Palestine First, and in 1930, the change from Centenary Methodist Episcopal South to First Methodist Church, Palestine was made official. At the national level, a merger in 1968 with another church resulted in the current church name of First United Methodist Church Palestine.
Since moving to 422 S. Magnolia, FUMC Palestine has grown in numbers and its missions by expanding at the same location, eventually buying the entire city block and razing and moving existing residences to make room for the Children’s Building in the early 1950s, the Carroll Building in the mid-1980s and Fellowship Hall in the early1990s.
In addition to new structures, the 1952 renovation of the sanctuary moved the chancel area to the east wall, “squared up” and levelled the seating area, and most importantly, removed the south balcony, leaving only the west balcony. This permitted the full display of the superb stained glass windows on the south wall. Another renovation of the Children’s Building was completed in the late 1990s, with a complete interior rebuild and addition of the Multi-Purpose wing. The remodeled Children’s Building was named the Jiles B Upton Children’s Building due to his leadership in the renovation.
The most recent renovation was the sanctuary restoration from 2005-2007. Significant changes included lowering the Choir Loft to the main level, expanding the Chancel Area, adding ramp access via the north wall, relocating church offices to the lower level, and other numerous less obvious, but essential updates to the 100-year-old building.
Today’s First UMC Palestine has embarked on a year-long Vibrant Church Initiative, a comprehensive program to help our congregation become more relevant within our community. The entire process is focused on revitalization and the journey of renewal.
We invite YOU to become a part of the rich history of First UMC Palestine. Please join us in worship as we continue “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
(Acknowledgment – this History was largely excerpted from a very detailed history prepared by Ms. Carol Herrington, church member, in connection with the 2011 “Demisemiseptcentennial Celebration”)