When members of the First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden gather Sunday, March 22, for the two morning worship services, they will meet outdoors under the trees — just as the church’s early members did, first at Daniels and Roper roads and later at Newell and Boyd streets. This will begin a year of celebration as the church recognizes its 120th anniversary.
It all began in a brush arbor south of State Road 50.
The First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden was born out of the old Beulah Congregational Church, which became Beulah Methodist Episcopal Church South in March 1895. It moved into a new building on land south of the city deeded to the church by Christian Peters. After the congregation moved to Winter Garden around 1909, the building was sold to members of an African-American church on South Street in Winter Garden.
The first meetings were held beneath a tree canopy at Newell and Boyd streets (the location of the church’s north parking lot). A church building was constructed in 1910 at 125 N. Lakeview Ave., its present location.
In the early 1920s, the church went from one Sunday service per month on a four-point circuit (composed of Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland and first Montverde then later Clermont) to a full-time charge.
In 1941, groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the current sanctuary, which was larger than the old frame church building. Nine years later, the Sunday school wing was built south of the sanctuary.
The earliest organization of the church women was the Ladies Aid Society. The United Methodist Women continue today with four circle groups: the Good Morning Group, the Candlelight Group, the Idea Seekers and the Circle of Hope. The United Methodist Men also meet regularly and take on projects around the campus.
An annual tradition is the Easter cross that was first created with gladiolus and fern and displayed on the front lawn in 1957. Every spring, church members gather around the cross for family photographs.
The FUMC Learning Center preschool was offered to children two mornings a week starting in 1992 and has grown every year and is now a five-day-a-week program. In 2005, the preschool added a free VPK program; last year, it began offering extended hours with before- and aftercare. Patty Tate has been the director for all of the preschool’s 23 years and is retiring this summer. Assistant Director Wendy Davis, who has been with the school for 18 years, has been appointed to the top position.
In 1992, the sanctuary was refurbished: the pews were removed and refinished; the wood floors, furniture and doors were refinished; the carpet, altar rail and ceiling tiles were replaced; and the entire room was repainted. Additional work was done to enhance other areas of the church property.
Expansion was necessary by 2004, so the church purchased the former physician’s office on the east side of Boyd Street adjacent to the church. It is now used for Sunday school classes and other group meetings.
Music has always been a big part of the Methodist church, even in the early years before instruments were introduced to services. FUMC’s old-style Aeolian Organ Company pipe organ, installed around 1943, was showing signs of wear, and the church took a bold step last year and purchased a new digital Rodgers Infinity 361. While it was manufactured in the United States, the more than 250 pipes were shipped from Italy.
The congregation is consistently reaching out to the community — locally and around the world — through missions.
The church has a thriving youth group and sponsors Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and hosts many other community organizations on the campus.
Mission teams have made multiple trips to the island country of Dominica to engage in construction projects, and, most recently, they have traveled several times to Cuba to worship and pray with FUMC’s sister churches. The youth are scheduled to go on a mission trip to Costa Rica this summer.
The mission of the United Methodist Church is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” The local church’s mission is “Building Life-Changing Christian Relationships.”
During the year, the church leadership is promoting special events and projects that secure the legacy of the past and lift up the current ministries of the church to the community. The overall goal of the year is to generate a call to action to “live out the legacy” in thought, word and deed.
An important project this year is the appointing of a church history room and the process of digitally archiving materials for future generations. To fund this project, the church is selling anniversary T-shirts at booster.com/fumcwg120.
The first project, A Pastoral History of the First United Methodist Church, is nearing completion and will be available for viewing starting Sunday in the history room.
Future events will be announced on Facebook and the website, fumcwg.org. If anyone in the community has memorabilia to contribute, call (407) 656-1135.
LIVING THE LEGACY
The First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden is celebrating its 120th anniversary with a yearlong campaign called “Living the Legacy.”
On Sunday, March 22, services at 9 and 11:15 a.m. will begin outdoors under the trees and move into the sanctuary for the continuation of worship. Visiting the church that day will be former pastors Dale Harward and his wife, Lucy, and Jim Reeher and his wife, Meme. The community is invited to attend Sunday and worship together for the “Return to the Arbor” services.
“It’s from simple beginnings in the brush arbor in 1910 that the church is who we are today,” the Rev. Rusty Belcher said. “It’s exciting to remember our past and to celebrate our legacy. One of our themes is living the legacy in the 120th year, and we’re doing just that.”