The History of First-Centenary United Methodist Church is the story of two churches: Centenary Methodist Church and First Methodist Church. These two congregations played prominent roles in the civic and spiritual life of Chattanooga for more than a century and merged to form one church, believing that together they could serve God in the community in a more effective way.
The first Methodist church in Chattanooga was organized in a log cabin at the corner of Lookout Street and Georgia Avenue in 1839. Five years later, the Methodist churches of the South withdrew from the rest of Methodism over the issue of slavery and this church then became known as the Methodist Episcopal Church South. In 1885, the name of our local congregation was changed to Centenary Methodist commemorating the centennial of American Methodism.
During the occupation of Chattanooga by Union forces, persons who had been members of northern Methodist churches organized their own church, First Methodist Episcopal Church, that became known to generations of Chattanoogans as the "Stone Church". (Its steeple still stands at the intersection of McCallie and Georgia Avenues.) Through their connections with the north, the congregation was able to get support for the building of a university (now known as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga).
After the Civil War, the congregations of each church grew in size and influence. In the next 100 years, each built and outgrew several buildings. Both churches were sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate in the community. Centenary supplied the first city missionary and was instrumental in beginning the Methodist Neighborhood Centers and Asbury Center at Oak Manor. Impetus for a Goodwill organization came from First Methodist; and both churches gave assistance to the Traveler's Aid Society and the Florence Crittenton Home.
In 1911, the two churches initiated a movement toward unification of the branches of the Methodist church that had withdrawn from the parent church. On May 10, 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church became one great church: The Methodist Church.
In 1967, the First Methodist and Centenary congregations merged and a year later, the Methodist Church combined with the United Brethren. The name of the new church then became First-Centenary United Methodist Church.
In 1971, the congregation voted to build a new sanctuary and on April 8, 1973, the first worship service was held in the new building. Designs for a new educational building soon followed and in 1983, both buildings were dedicated.
In 1992, as an outreach to area families, we established the Children’s Enrichment Center, a day care center for young children. The Preparing the Way campaign in 1998 supported the renewal of church facilities, and the Welcome Center on Oak Street was completed in 2000. In 2003, the gymnasium was renovated to become the Worship Center for The Vine, and The Center for Discipleship Formation became a reality.
In 2007, construction began on The Oak Street Center which was completed in 2008. It houses our Worship Center for The Vine, a kitchen, a large classroom, and a spacious lobby. During the construction, we also renovated the core area of our present building. Not only does The Vine serve as a house of worship for our members, it is now a home church for Mustard Tree Ministries, with dinner and worship every Sunday evening.
First-Centenary United Methodist is a church with a heart in the heart of a busy city. Its steeple points the thoughts of passersby to Heaven; its members are commissioned to work for God on earth.