First United Methodist Church St Pete
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
History of Missions
History of missions and community outreach at First United Methodist Church
First United Methodist Church, then known as St. Petersburg Methodist Episcopal Church South, was founded in 1889 and early records are incomplete. They do show, however, that this church has long been active in missions and community outreach. There are records of a Women’s Missionary Society being organized in 1896, and a church conference book entry dated May 10, 1903, stated that “Poor are being looked after.”
A young men’s class in the church in 1915 provided at a cost of $400 a reading/recreation room for young men in the community – a forerunner of the St. Petersburg YMCA. In 1916 another Sunday School class was supporting a Japanese girl residing in a Hiroshima Mission School for Girls. In the years 1923-26, our church began mission churches in four locations in St. Petersburg: Gulfport, Pasadena, Child’s Park and one at 28th Ave and First Street. Some of our mission churches are still very active today.
In 1925, a wealthy church member donated a piece of property worth $200,000 to the Methodist Church for foreign missions.
During all the years of our church’s existence there have been many examples of members giving generously for worthy causes in the community and everywhere the church has concerns.
In spite of hard financial times for the church during the depression years of the 1930's, the church was busy helping others, with the Women’s Missionary Society reporting for one year "170 visits to sick and visitors, 90 bouquets and 91 trays to the sick, and visits to hospitals and jails." In 1936, Boy Scout Troop 36, now known as Troop 236, was formed for boys in the community. In the early 40's, Girl Scout troops were also meeting at the church.
The World War II years inspired many patriotic efforts in the St. Petersburg area by the church: collections for the Defense Aid Station, services held at Maritime Service School, 1827 New Testaments contributed to boys in service, and servicemen at MacDill Field being invited to participate in services of the church, with even a choir made up solely of servicemen being formed.
During the war years, a serviceman’s mother started a sewing circle within her Women’s Missionary Society group. She felt that doing something for others would help her deal with the tragedy of her son being held prisoner and later dying in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. The sewing circle sewed garments for the Children’s Home, needy families, the Crittenden Home and refugees of war-torn countries, and was continued for many years.
In the 50's, the church was active in founding a retirement home for aged persons in the community. It was known as Sunny Shores, and is now Westminster Shores and is privately owned. Another ministry was to open the chapel to the downtown public for prayer each day from 9-5.
The 60's saw continued emphasis on missions. Church members were active in leadership of one of the earliest efforts by the Methodist Church to provide spiritual and social services for the poor through the Wolff and Rosa Valdez Tampa Methodist Settlements. Women of the church helped provide intergenerational day care, club groups, senior citizens' groups, and intercultural language classes for needy persons.
Many programs were started in the 70's, some of which still continue today: Instant Care ministry, Counseling ministry, Singles fellowship, and Mother’s Morning Out. Other worthwhile ministries were Fourth Sunday Mission Basket offering for global ministries, a food closet, and the Shepherd Center, which was a referral agency for many forms of assistance for the elderly. Another program started in the 70's which helped elderly and disabled persons with various chores was The Bridge youth ministry.
The 80's saw continued mission activity, including support of a Vietnam refugee family, which started a continuing relationship with Rex Almquist, founder of South-East Asian Relief. One mission effort that was not as long-lived was “Porkys for Missions” in which overweight members pledged $2 for missions for every pound lost.
Through the 90's and now into the twenty-first century, many ministries began and are continuing to meet needs of our changing society, including programs to help homeless and street people and continuing projects to help in our city and state, the United States, and countries around the world.