A History of the Metro West United Methodist Builders
1888 – 2013
When Minnesota officially became a state in 1858, Methodism was already expanding in the territory. Minnesota Methodism began in the summer of 1849, when Rev. Matthew Sorin, a Methodist minister from Philadelphia, came to St. Anthony village for his health and while there, started a Class Meeting. A few months later Rev. Enos Stevens came, appointed by the Wisconsin Conference as a missionary to the area, including St. Anthony. Together they founded the first Methodist church in Minneapolis.
By 1888 Minneapolis had 21 Methodist-Episcopal churches, including 16 English-speaking, three German and one each Swedish and Norwegian. Minneapolitans were moving toward the suburbs — 15 to 20 blocks from downtown. The city grew 250 percent between 1880 and 1890 to a population of 165,000, likely prompting Rev. William Teal, chairman of Methodist Church extension, to comment in 1889, “Never in the history of the church has there been such a need for houses of worship as now…In this work the church does not keep pace with the increase of population of the cities…More churches in our cities and villages as well as on the rural frontier, will promote temperance, social purity and righteousness in private and public life…”
At that time, the Minneapolis District extended from Albert Lea to St. Cloud and Princeton. Church members included many farmers, who had gone through two successive crop failures. Money was tight, making it difficult to take an offering for church extension.
In spite of these difficulties, Rev. John Stafford, District Superintendent, organized “The Methodist Episcopal Missionary and Church Extension Society of Minneapolis, Minnesota” on Nov. 1, 1888. The organization’s purpose: to found and maintain mission Sunday Schools and churches, and “to promote, enlarge and direct church extension work.” The organization also wanted to “promote evangelistic, social and settlement work, and to support institutions for the relief of the destitute and the recovery of the outcast.”
The Society’s first project was to assist in the building of Minnehaha Methodist Church at the corner of 40th Avenue and 52nd Street in Minneapolis. Two lots were donated, and $1,115 was raised, $1,000 of which went toward the new church building. In reporting on the project, Rev. Stafford said of the Society, “The child is small, but vigorous and hopeful…It has secured contributions of greater or lesser amounts from nearly all the churches in the city, awakening, we trust, a general interest in the work.”
That child continued to grow. During its first years the majority of loans and grants went toward buying land and/or erecting new church buildings. The list of beneficiaries includes many names familiar today: Park Avenue, Lake Harriet and Columbia Heights Churches were among the earliest. The organization also helped churches repair and improve their properties, and contributed toward the rebuilding of at least two churches destroyed by fire. As churches became established they began to receive loans and grants for new parsonages as well.
In 1916, the organization changed its name to “The Methodist Union of Minneapolis.”
The Union began reaching farther outside Minneapolis in the 1950s, buying land for churches in Hopkins, Bloomington, Fridley, Golden Valley, Edina and Eden Prairie. In the 1960s, the Union bought land for churches in Coon Rapids, Brooklyn Park, Plymouth, Minnetonka and Blaine. The organization purchased land and a former Lutheran Church for a new congregation in Prior Lake in 1968, and bought property in Jonathan in 1972.
Although the majority of projects in the early years involved buying land and building churches, supporting ministries was also important, even to early organization members. Deciding that the Minneapolis Workhouse was a “reformatory institution,” organization leaders granted funds in 1890 toward hiring a chaplain who would “aid discharged convicts in securing position and place in society.”
Early meeting minutes show money going toward a variety of causes, including Wesley and Hennepin Avenue Church missions, the purchase of a large tent for evangelistic work and helping Goodwill Industries as well as churches pay their debts. In May 1929, the Union sponsored a competitive concert for Methodist choirs.
Ministry support continued to grow. In the late 1940s and 1950s the Union began providing buses for churches to bring more children to church school. The organization helped Park Avenue Church purchase buses for its youth program in 1969, and contributed toward Calvary and Joyce Day Care Centers, Camp Kingswood and church summer youth programs in the 1970s. Contact Teleministry, Pillsbury-Waite Neighborhood Services, Engstrom Counseling Services, Joyce House, Emmanuel Native American Ministry and the Korean Ministry were among organizations receiving grants in the 1970s.
At first, funds for church extension came primarily from congregations. Later some estate gifts made a revolving loan fund possible, which allowed the Union to provide loans without having to rely only on raising money from the congregations. Then in 1956 the Union broadened its base of support by organizing the Builders Club to involve individuals directly. Persons who joined the Builders Club committed to giving to two special “Calls” per year “to assist in the establishment, or strengthening, of the ministry of the Methodist Church within the boundaries of the Metro West District.”
Today those “Calls” are providing resources to churches in new ways. Over the last 10 years, the organization, now the Metro West United Methodist Builders, has helped churches shore up aging buildings, meet accessibility codes, repair leaky roofs, enhance church school areas, update a playground and improve fire safety, among other projects.
Today’s world is very different from that of 1888. Yet, along with helping established United Methodist Churches repair, improve and enhance their worship spaces and programs, the Metro West Builders is still supporting church extension, although in a new way. In 2011, the Builders helped the new and rapidly growing Spirit River Community UMC purchase a foreclosed former banquet facility in Isanti for worship and program space. The most recent Call, in Fall 2012, raised more than $26,000 to help Walker UMC rebuild after a fire in May 2012. The large amount came because an anonymous donor matched each dollar given to the Call with $10 for the project.
As the Metro West Builders organization moves into the future, the ways it supports churches will continue to change and develop. Today, we recognize that a church is not a building, it is people, and there are all kinds of new ways to “do church.” House churches are sprouting, and congregations are launching second campuses in new mission fields.
The Metro West Builders has begun strategic conversations with other entities in the Minnesota Annual Conference that provide resources for congregations: the Minnesota East Builders, Congregational Development, and the Minnesota United Methodist Foundation. The groups are exploring ways they can work together to help Minnesota Annual Conference congregations most effectively.
As we celebrate the past, we also look to the future with the opportunities and challenges it will bring.
The future Walker UMC