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METHODISTS

METHODISTS. Although Methodists formed the third religious body in Cleveland, establishing their first church in 1827, they achieved neither the numbers nor the prominence that they have enjoyed elsewhere in the U.S. Among Cleveland's Protestants, BAPTISTS have outdistanced them in the number of churches since the late 19th century, and CONGREGATIONALISTS and PRESBYTERIANS have surpassed them in political, social, and cultural influence. In 1865 there were 7 Methodist churches (or Methodist Episcopal, as they were formally known), the most of any Protestant denomination. Only Catholics, with 8 churches, had more. As Cleveland grew, Methodist churches failed to maintain the pace. By 1929 only 33 out of the almost 600 Cleveland churches were Methodist, while 110 were Baptist. Growth lagged even further toward the end of the century: in 1986 there were 67 churches, then known as United Methodist, compared to 337 Baptist and 157 Catholic, out of the city's approx. 1,300 churches.

The relative lack of influence of Methodist churches stemmed from a number of factors. Methodists were never part of the transplanted New England leadership elite, as were Congregationalists and Presbyterians. Rather, they drew members from Pennsylvania and other mid-Atlantic states, from southern and eastern Ohio, and from Germany. These diverse groups account for much of the lack of unity in Cleveland Methodism. Divisions between English- and German-origin Methodists precluded common activities. Finally, schisms disrupted Methodist unity. Two early schisms from First Methodist Church, Protestant Methodist Church (1830) and Wesleyan Methodist Church (1839), indicated the potential for division. Methodist organizational patterns, too, hampered the denomination's influence. Well into the latter part of the 19th century, Methodists were supplied with different ministers each year, which made it difficult for a minister or church to develop the contacts and experience that would have led to more impact in the community. In addition, Methodists west of the river belonged to a different supervisory body (the North Ohio Conference) than those east of the river (the Erie Conference).

First Methodist Church was organized in 1827. An initial attempt to establish a church had failed in 1822--no one had paid the $.25 postage due on the recorder's fee on a deed from a Boston man who planned to donate land to anyone who would build a Methodist church in Cleveland. Hanover St. Methodist (1833, later PEOPLES-HOPE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH) and Erie St. Methodist (1850, later EPWORTH-EUCLID UNITED METHODIST CHURCH) followed. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many Methodist churches conducted missions for arriving immigrants. Broadway St. Methodist Episcopal Church was the most prominent. The church offered an employment bureau, health care at ST. LUKE'S HOSPITAL, English-language instruction, drama, and recreation. Worship services and religious-education work involved as many as 17 different languages. Except for First United Methodist Church and a few others, Methodist churches moved from downtown and the east side to the SUBURBS in the 20th century. Many of the west side churches remained. A number of mergers resulted, bilingual work came to an end, and the various branches of Methodism united.

Methodists in Cleveland built institutions such as BALDWIN-WALLACE COLLEGE and St. Luke's Hospital. Benevolent institutions chartered by Methodists included the Methodist Deaconess Home (1890, later the WEST SIDE COMMUNITY HOUSE, partially Methodist-sponsored in 1986) and the Berea Children's Home, founded in 1864 as the German Methodist Orphan Asylum. Methodists participated in the INTERCHURCH COUNCIL OF GREATER CLEVELAND, particularly its hunger centers.

Few Methodist churches for blacks existed in Cleveland despite the early 19th-century formation of 2 independent black Methodist denominations (the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion). CORY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, founded in 1875, in the 20th century became an influential church in the African American community. Lane Memorial Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (1902), which belonged to the jurisdiction created by southern Methodists in 1870 for their black churches, had 450 members in 1919. In 1968 additional German-origin churches joined the larger body of Cleveland Methodists. A merger of the Evangelical and United Brethren churches resulted in the creation of the United Methodist church in 1968.

Michael J. McTighe (dec.)


See also RELIGION and individual AME churches.