Methodism grew out of a reformed movement within the Church of England and was not a separate church until the American Revolution. A formal organization of the denomination occurred in 1784 in Baltimore, Maryland, when Bishop Asbury was chosen to be one of the Superintendents. He was among the first circuit riders to visit Burke County; he visited eight times between 1786 and 1814.
Gilboa Church, located about eight miles southwest of Morganton just off Highway 64, is the “Mother Church” of all Methodism in Burke County. The present building on that site was constructed in 1879 and is the oldest, extant, framed Methodist Church in Burke County. In considering First United Methodist Church’s own beginnings, the history of Gilboa takes on great importance. It reminds present day Methodists that they stand on the shoulders of a few deeply dedicated people of faith, who, despite rough roads and limited resources, built on faith that they might follow throughout time.
The First United Methodist Church of Morganton was officially established in 1846. At that time the Methodist Church used the Presbyterian Church building, located on the corner of North Sterling and Collett Streets. This building was used from 1820 until the late 1840’s, when a tract of land was purchased at 119 North King Street for the erection of a framed church. This church was completed in 1847 at a cost of $859.23.
In 1899 construction of the new brick church at 107 South King Street began on a “pay as you go” plan. The first church service in the new structure was held on Sunday, October 5, 1902. The designer of the new church was W. H. Sloan, a Morganton contractor; he also supervised the construction of the church.
Membership grew to the point that a larger church was needed. On April 9, 1926, the congregation approved the purchase of the Collett home place, located on the corner of North King and Queen Streets, as the site for a new church, parsonage, and educational building. The price was $19,000. The final payment for this church property was made on October 23, 1936. The Reverend Emment McLarty challenged the congregation to build the present stone church on this property. The first worship service in the new building was held on March 29, 1953; the church was dedicated on April 11, 1954, by Bishop Costen J. Harrell.
In 1968, the Methodist Church of the United States joined with the Evangelical Unite Brethren Church to form the United Methodist church. The Evangelical United Brethren Church traced its roots back to the German speaking Methodists in the early days of the nation’s history. The creation of the United Methodist Church was then a restoration of the English and German speaking traditions of the American Methodist Church.
Several years after the construction of the 1953 stone church, the need for additional space became apparent. On February 27, 1991, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for a major addition to the church which would include new administrative offices, a library, a fellowship hall, a state-of-the-art kitchen, a gathering area, and an elevator. Consecration Sunday for the new addition was held on July 12, 1992. A Child Development Center opened in the former fellowship hall in January, 1994.
From the early days of the first circuit rider, Bishop Asbury, down to the present time, a common link of service to others has run through all people who have dedicated their lives to the betterment of Methodism in Burke County. The First United Methodist Church of Morganton serves not only its members, but the community and the world. Its history is best celebrated when it instills a spiritual fire to live for God and to bring others to Him in each of its members.
History of the First United Methodist Church
Morganton, North Carolina