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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Faith for 175 Years

Central United Methodist Church observes a big anniversary.

Central United Methodist Church is celebrating its 175th anniversary, and for long-time members, it’s a time to honor and remember those who built and sustained their faith community.

Sunday’s 9:15 a.m. worship service will be a special one, with United Methodist Churches of Indiana officials including Mitch Gieselman, Southwest Indiana district Conference Superintendent, and Bishop Julius Trimble expected to be on hand.

A representative of Evansville Mayor Stephanie Terry will present a proclamation, and Gina Moore, a well-known longtime local performer and one-half of the Browne Sisters, will sing.

The service and activities that follow will include several nods to history, with old hymns, films, photos, and memories. Jasper, Indiana’s Schnitzelbank Restaurant will cater a post-service lunch, and “we have so many pieces of memorabilia that is all going to be displayed,” says Gloria Millay, chair of the 175th celebration.

“One of the best pictures has hundreds of people standing in front of the church, it has to be folded in half because it’s so long,” Millay says. “Women are in their hats and dresses, and men in suits and hats. It’s at least a hundred years old.”

Congregants at Central UMC have worshipped at 300 Mary St. since the mid-1920s, but the church originated in 1849 when the Methodist Church established Evansville City Mission. Back then, congregants met in a small brick building at North Main and Pennsylvania streets, according to church historian and member Stan Schmitt.

In 1853, a brick church was built on Ingle Street between Seventh and Eighth, and it was named Ingle Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Schmitt says that the building was outgrown, but an attempt to build anew on Eighth Street in the 1870s was abandoned due to a nationwide recession.

A new church opened at Franklin and Mary Streets in 1906, and it was renamed Central United Methodist Church. Schmitt says that the building rapidly ran out of space, and construction of the present sanctuary started in 1924. Congregants met at Veterans Memorial Coliseum while the current church was under construction.

An educational wing and family life center have been added over the years at the current building.

Central UMC is active on many fronts in Evansville — it was a charter member of Congregations Acting for Justice and Empowerment (CAJE) in 2003 — and it has a variety of adult and children’s ministries.

The pulpit has been occupied by the Rev. Dewey Miller since 2019. He’s the church’s 17th pastor since 1904.

“The thing that stands out the most to me is some really good people who are deeply committed to their faith and to their church,” Miller says. “It just makes it a joy to be around them, to be a part of this church … It’s a good place with good people, and we’re looking forward to a good long future ahead of us.”

Millay agrees and says Central UMC’s 175th anniversary is a proud marker to celebrate.

“We’ve lived 175 years of faith in this church,” she says. “I think of all of the faithful people in our past who have gotten us here today. The best thing about the celebration is honoring all of these people who have sat in these pews before us, who have gotten us here today. That’s huge for me.”

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