First Methodist closing its doors

Big building in Altoona too much for small congregation to maintain

June 26, 2011

By Linda T. Gracey

The last hymn will be sung, the last sermon delivered and the last prayer said today at First United Methodist Church in Altoona.

After 158 years of ministry, the church where Methodism started in the city will cease to exist effective Friday as a separate house of worship.

At one time, a congregation of about 1,700 members worshipped there. That number has dramatically dwindled in recent years, with between 35 and 40 attending Sunday morning services. Those members are mostly retirees who lack the wherewithal to maintain the brownstone at 1208 13th St.

The structure will be put up for sale, and the church’s members will unite with fellow Methodists at Jaggard United Methodist Church, 17th Street and Pleasant Valley Boulevard. The Rev. Towanda Acey, who pastors both churches, will continue to serve the newly formed congregation – Jaggard First United Methodist Church.

Saying farewell to the building is difficult for those who consider it an important part of their lives.

“I will miss it big time,” said Dave Barr, whose family has attended services in the 104-year-old church for four generations.

“I have never known another church,” said the 70-year-old Altoona native, who only went elsewhere during his college days in Huntingdon.

His grandparents used to worship in the building, and Barr’s grandfather served as treasurer.

“When he got the money [offering], he would take it home and count it and then walk it back to the church,” Barr said. “My dad and mom met there. My sister and I were baptized there.”

His wife, Barbara, started coming to First when she was about 13, and they were married in the sanctuary.

The Barrs’ two sons learned Bible stories and lessons in Sunday school and followed in their father’s footsteps by joining Troop 1, the first Boy Scout troop established in Altoona. Troop 1 was sponsored by the church from 1921 until it folded a year ago.

Through the years, Barr has been active in church work. He was head usher for a number of years and led singing for the adult Sunday school class. He continues to sing in the choir. Rest of the story:

First Methodist closing its doors – – Altoona, PA | News, Sports, Jobs, Community Information – The Altoona Mirror.

Address: 1208 13th Street, Altoona 16601
 city of Altoona
 Blair County

Directions: This church is in the old section of Altoona west of the main railroad tracks, south of the Altoona Hospital.  Seventh Street (westbound) and Eighth Street (eastbound) are the arteries that cross the main railroad tracks.  Once in the western section of Altoona, the church building is on the northwest corner of 12th Avenue and 13th Street.

Historic Conference: Central Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church

Brief History: The 1850’s influx of people associated with the development of Altoona and the Pennsylvania Railroad included many Methodists, and they formed a society and met in a school house.  By 1853 the class had grown to the point that they asked to be organized as a separate charge with their own pastor.  That same year they secured from Colonel John A. Wright the two plots of land on which the present church stands and erected a large brick building with, as was the style, the sanctuary on the second floor.  That building was remodeled in 1871, razed in 1905, and replaced by the present structure in 1907.  This is the mother church of Altoona Methodism.


6 thoughts on “First Methodist closing its doors

  1. Perhaps it’s time that we Methodists be reminded of something John Wesley said. “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

  2. I agree. John Wesley had an obvious passion for the Lord and souls, and maintained a powerful New Testament outlook featuring repentance and new birth. To me, the closing of this church building and so many others across America is both a case of irrelevant wineskins and the culture having too much of an impact upon a once thriving ministry. America has changed and this demands new models to seek the lost, allow for the developing of ministries, and also the maturing of real disciples. I learned a powerful fact several years ago. A minister who had studied the situation perhaps more than anyone discovered that 80% of Houston, Texas was unchurched, and would remain unchurched. He was an advocate for finding ministry models to find these people that traditional Christianity was not finding. Sometimes we must release the cherished methods of the past if they no longer work, and seek new NT wineskins based on the Lord’s teachings. I am very optimistic that this is in fact happening, and that we are in the early stages of a national Great Awakening. Thank you for the post.

    • RJ,
      I think one of the points you make is essential for us to understand: “Sometimes we must release the cherished methods of the past if they no longer work“. Too many times I have seen us throw away the Gospel news for the “newest” or “latest” marketing program in order to reach out to the unchurched. We need to stay true to the Gospel first and then respond to the culture of the community. First – always first – is for us to remember we are in the world, not of the world and we are people who need to set an example of God’s Kingdom on earth Now. Not wait for “eternity” to begin living in the Kingdom!
      Thanks for commenting and creating dialog! Sorry I took so long to respond – life caught me 🙂
      Be blessed & Be a Blessing,

  3. Being a United Methodist pastor myself, this story touched my heart. Sometimes while driving, I will see an abandoned Methodist church building that once was a soul-filling station for hungry souls. It seems that Methodism is becoming less and less in many of our communities.

    • My heart breaks for these situations also. I am a life-long Methodist and a 2nd career Methodist pastor. My parents and children are active in the church with my youngest beginning seminary within the year. Is the presence of Methodism reducing in our communities or have we lost sight of the foundational beliefs that propelled the Methodist church in previous times and broken the church from within? I tend to think it is the latter and people who are looking for places to refill and renew their souls are no longer hearing the message that needs to be preached.

      God be with you.

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