This article was original written by the late Ruth E. Wilkenson, and published in the 1968 church photo directory. More recent additions and revisions have been made by Richard Rollinson and Nicole Misencik.
The Church was organized on September 17, 1882. Thirty people signed the Charter, total membership consisted of 6 probationers and 32 members. John E. Wildey was appointed pastor in charge.
The church was an outgrowth of the Scattergood mission – an undenominational organization holding its meetings on the property where the post office now stands. The Baptist members withdrew first and formed the nucleus of the present Baptist church organization. A deed of the mission property was then given by the remaining members of the Scattergood mission to the Methodist Episcopal Church.
Willis Cooper was the second pastor in 1883 at a salary of $600.00. In 1895, Rev. E. D. Bassett was appointed. The church membership was growing and a need was urgent for a new building. On June 16, 1886, after much discussion and consideration the Bennett lot on Coram Avenue was purchased for $900.00. In 1888 plans were being drawn for the new church – ground was broken in July, 1888. At this time the Christian Endeavor was formed, the Ladies Aid gave much of its energy and financial aid to raising the money for this new church. The church was formally dedicated on June 29,1890 by Bishop Daniel Goodsell. It was built by the Beardsley Company (my grandfather).
Now the need for a home for the pastor became pressing and it was decided to build on the north side of the lot. On July 2, 1892 the contract for the parsonage was let to Hugh Bros. for $3,190.00. The Ladies Aid took upon themselves the furnishing of the new parsonage, paying the interest on the mortgage and paying off the principal. It was dedicated on June 25, 1894.
In 1895 under pastorage of Rev. B. F. Kidder the long-handled collection boxes were laid aside for wooden plates.
In 1895 the church returned to using rented pews after experimenting with free pews for a while.
In 1899 Welshack lights replaced the old gas flames and the bulletin board was fastened into place.
In 1908 the Ladies Aid Society (during the pastorage of Mortimer B. Giffin) completed paying the mortgage on the parsonage and held a celebration on October 13, 1909.
In 1911 the individual communion sets were given and the new form of service was adopted.
During John T. Hamilton’s eight-year pastorate (1912-1920) the church building mortgage was cleared up.
During Arthur Boyntain’s pastorate (1920-1925) electricity was installed in both the church and the parsonage, a new Estey organ and chimes were given by a friend, and a hardwood floor was laid in the auditorium.
The first Christmas Candlelight service was held in 1922.
Rev. Robert Dolliver served from 1930-1935 and the 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1932 and The Sentinel heading appears under the date of September 23, 1932 “Three Hundred attended Fiftieth Anniversary”
The Ladies Aid Society and the Missionary Society were formed into the Woman’s Society of Christian Service in 1941.
In 1944 major renovation was undertaken, new furnace installed, new organ room built, chancel completely redesigned and rebuilt with a center aisle being made. The renovated building was re-dedicated on October 1, 1944 by Bishop Carleton Lacy. More important than physical improvements was the fact that increasing numbers of people were joining the church and finding their lives more meaningful and vital. At this time there were 315 members of the church and 110 enrolled in the Sunday School.
The 75th anniversary was held the week of September 15, 1957 with Dr. William H. Alderson the Sunday guest speaker. The Jubilee Banquet was held September 17, 1957, with the Rev. Robert Dolliver as guest speaker.
(For 74 years, the church thrived on Coram Avenue, but, by 1964, the number of parishioners had increased to the point that additional parking and more room for the Sunday School was desired.)
Property on Long Hill Avenue was purchased by the conference in 1963. Groundbreaking for the new education building (now Wilkinson Hall)was held on November 3, 1963 with the Rev. Wilfred Hansen (District Sup’d) officiating. The cornerstone of the new building was laid May 24, 1964. The first service was held there on August 23, 1964.
The parsonage was built on the northeast corner of the property and dedicated in September 1966.
In 1978, under the pastorate of Rev. Clifford Field, the Charge Conference authorized a Building Committee to formulate plans for a Sanctuary. Betty Connery and Helen Thomas moved that the building be ready for the 100th Anniversary. Approval for a ceiling of $345,000 was given on September 29, 1979, including a $60,000 mortgage limit. Ground breaking ceremonies were held on February 3, 1980. The cornerstone was laid on September 28, 1980 with Pastor Field, District Superintendent Richard Smeltzer, and Pastor Emeritus Charles Geiger. On November 23, 1980 after 16 years of Sunday morning worship in Fellowship Hall, members of the congregation dedicated the building and burned the mortgage. Led by the Building Committee, youth and clergy, the congregation formed a procession leading to the new sanctuary. The building was officially opened and the baptismal font, lectern, pulpit and altar, were dedicated to holy use.
Following the consecration of the sanctuary and until the present day, many gifts have been given to beautify the sanctuary and church building: chimes were donated by the Rainear family; wall hangings were created by Ruth Ovesny, the Beach’s, Jean Scott Wooster and others; the Fellowship Hall was renamed Wilkinson Hall; pews and crosses were named in honor and memory of many church families, whose names can be found in the narthex; seven stained glass windows were installed thanks to the generous donations of the congregation; and air-conditioning was added thanks to Esther Swist for the comfort of all. Numerous gifts of time, talent, and treasures, have enhanced this building and our ability to do ministry throughout the years.
During the pastorate of Rev. Joseph Piccirillo beginning in 1996, the congregation continued its history of hospitality and fellowship with the popular Tomato Festivals. The tradition of inviting the community into the church continues with Lenten Fish Fries and Fall Fun Fests.
In 2002, the congregation welcomed its first female pastor, Rev. Diane McClanahan and was blessed by her leadership. That tradition continued with the appointment of Rev. Heather Sinclair in 2006. Pastors Diane and Heather, as well as several other members of the congregation, have been nurtured in their journeys to ordination in the United Methodist Church.
In April 2009, our church received our first Certified Lay Minister, Ximena A. Varas.
The First United Methodist Church has served the community in many ways throughout the past 125 years. Boy Scouts has met continually since 1924 and Girl Scouts since 1929, as well as Explorer Scouts. Blood Banks, Vacation Bible Schools, Ecumenical Services, Emmaus Youth Retreats, District and Conference gatherings have all been hosted in this building.
The dedication of many has contributed so much to the life of the church over the years. We follow in their footsteps with the gifts of love, fellowship, and dedication to the Way of Christ we all have to share with one another. As we go forward, we remember the cloud of witnesses that have blessed this congregation, we thank God for steadfast love and guidance, and we continually strive to live and serve according to our mission statement:
We, the First United Methodist Church of Shelton, are a welcoming family of God;
Committed to becoming more and more like Jesus Christ;
Together we are growing in faith, knowledge and love of God.
Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we serve God by serving others throughout the community and the world.