"From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery; unrevealed until its season; something God alone can see."
Hymn of Promise
CELEBRATING NEARLY 200 YEARS OF WORSHIP
Florence First United Methodist Church is one of the oldest Methodist churches in the Shoals area, indeed in all of North Alabama. Our congregation has been serving this area with the Gospel of Jesus Christ since 1822. We've had our share of trials and tribulations, but through the grace of God, the faith of our congregation, and with help from our community we have overcome.
We maintain a fresh new vision for this new age in which we are living, but respect our rich, nearly 200-year history. Perhaps no one can tell our story better than FUMC's longtime Historian, the late William Lindsey McDonald, who published two volumes of history of the First United Methodist Church of Florence.
The following are excerpts from Mr. McDonald's book Following the Vision: 1822 - 21st Century:
"Methodism began with the Wesleyan revival, which is said to have started in 1737. A little group of Oxford students at that time formed a 'Holy Club.' They were nicknamed 'Methodists' because they were so punctual in their order of worship, their prayers, and religious observances. These students moved to London soon afterwards and began the work of preaching to the poor and the outcasts. Two years later John Wesley organized his first class, and at the same time the first Methodist organizations were established in Bristol and London. These events mark the beginning of organized Methodism."
"There is no better story of success in America than the saga of American Methodism. When it was organized at the Christmas Conference in 1784, there were approximately 15,000 members more or less - probably less. It was the first religious body in America to work out an independent and national organization. Its itinerant ministry appeared to be divinely designed for its role of following the people, building the cities and developing the nations."
METHODISM IN THE SHOALS
"An early settler of the Blue Water Creek community, where Methodism was first organized in June 1818, wrote that no sooner had they begun clearing the forests and building their cabins, the Methodist circuit riders were there. Probably the first Methodist preacher to preach at the Muscle Shoals was the strange and quaint Lorenzo Dow, a nineteenth century John the Baptist with saddlebags."
FLORENCE'S FIRST METHODISTS
"The Methodists are not quite as old as the town, but almost! The Florence Church has a touch of heritage that very few churches west of the Alleghenies can claim, a direct link with the Wesleyan Movement in England and to John Wesley.
"On Sunday, September 8, 1822, John Cox and John Kerr, local preachers, organized and founded the Florence Methodist Church in the large front room of Cox's newly built log house. This pioneer structure was located in what is now the 200 block of the north side of West Tuscaloosa Street [...]. On the following day, the Reverend Cox presented his credentials to the county court, thereby becoming the first registered Methodist minister in the new town of Florence. There were eight people who came together in Cox's humble cabin to establish what was to become one of the great institutions in the city.
"From 1822 until 1827 the congregation alternated its meeting places between Cox's log house and the nearby cobbler's shop. Thus, Thomas Farmer Cobbler's Shop is recognized as the second location for the Florence Methodist Church. In 1826, the Methodists erected their first house of worship. It was described as a 'modest structure 24 feet by 30 feet in size and located on the west side of town.' This was at the corner of North Locust and West Tuscaloosa Streets.
"In the summer of 1827 [...] the Methodists relocated their small frame house of worship to its present location at the corner of East Tuscaloosa and Seminary Streets. According to tradtion this was done by rolling the church on logs down the middle of Tuscaloosa Street. This lot originally covered a city block."
SOWING THE SEEDS
"[By 1854] membership had increased to 108 whites, 145 blacks and five local preachers. [In 1855] LaGrange College was relocated from south of Leighton to Florence. This had an immediate impact upon the town and the Methodist people. LaGrange College [had been] organized and established [...in 1830...] by the Tennessee Conference of the Methodist Church. The charter for the new college was issued in the name of Florence Wesleyan University. The Methodist Church served as the campus house of worship for a large majority of these students attending the Methodist-owned institution. Through the subsequent years it grew and expanded into the Florence State Teachers College, Florence State University, and, in 1974, it became the University of North Alabama."
GROWTH AND TRAGEDY
"The Fourth Quarterly Conference reported that significant improvements had been made to the the  church building." The outside walls of the sanctuary were bricked, a steeple was added to the roof, and electric light fixtures were installed. However, by 1902, the church had outgrown the 69-year-old structure.
"In 1903, about $12,000 was raised for a new church building. Removal of the old building began in May 1903. It took two full years to build this new house of worship. A large tent was set up near the site, and services were held in the open air [...]. But before the congregation could move into a new building a flash fire engulfed the tent, taking with it the seats, pulpits and hymnals. However, the Bible was saved!
"On the morning of April 12, 1904, a fire broke out in the unfinished church. The alarm was sounded, and the fire fighters arrived in time to save most of the structure." Construction continued, and the church opened for worship in 1905. On Sunday, March 19, 1911, [...] the church was cleared of its indebtedness, and the long-awaited services for dedication were at hand."
"A devastating fire on Wednesday night, November 21, 1920, all but destroyed the lovely Methodist Church in Florence. Portions of the walls, the pulpit Bible, and most of the furniture were saved by the quick actions of the firemen. According to one story, an unknown boy rushed into the church to save the 1902 Bible."
FOLLOWING THE VISION
Once again, the people of First Methodist rebuilt. In 1922, the cornerstone of the church (which can still be seen on the southeast corner of the current building) was laid, and the church was opened and dedicated in 1924.
Unfortunately, the debt for this latest building was great, and by the late 1930s our church was in serious financial trouble. Even the Methodist women's bake sales and radio listening parties couldn't save us, and our church faced foreclosure and sale.
If not for the efforts of Louis Rosenbaum, the owner of Florence's movie theaters and a member of the Jewish faith, Florence First would have been lost. When Mr. Rosenbaum found out about our dilemma, he stepped in on the church's behalf. He contacted his friend at the New York bank holding the church's mortgage and asked the bank to hold off on the sale of the church. He also paid the balance of the past due funds, which allowed church members to eventually pay off the mortgage. The Rosenbaum family was repaid as well, and their generosity has never been forgotten.
Since then, Florence First has welcomed dignitaries to services, including President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, and we have enjoyed ongoing relationships with UNA, downtown businesses, and other faiths and congregations. We've also grown in membership and facilities. An office area and educational wing were completed in 1964. In 1965, Rogers Chapel was completed. In 1968, the sanctuary was renovated and remodeled.
Another milestone was reached in 2001, when McDowell Hall and the Christian Life Center were completed, adding new classrooms and a new kitchen. A massive building fund campaign called "Building the Vision" brought this addition to fruition, and the congregation continued to pledge funds to the building debt for 16 years. However, in 2017, the church received an intriguing offer regarding that debt, which was roughly $500,000. A still-anonymous benefactor challenged our congregation to raise half of the building loan balance by a certain deadline; if we did so, that individual would pay the other half of the debt. The "rules" were that the funds were to be paid, not pledged, and would be held and not totaled until the deadline. Everyone was simply asked to give as much as they could. When the deadline was reached and the funds were totalled, the congregation not only met the challenged, but had raised more than $800,000--much more than necessary to pay our portion of the debt. The benefactor paid his half as promised, and the mortgage deed was burned in a joyous ceremony in Mullins Memorial Garden.
As Mr. McDonald wrote in the closing of his historical account of First United Methodist Church, "To those who are a part of the church today and are familiar with its past, there is an abiding confidence that shall continue to light our path as we follow the vision into the future."
We welcome you to be a part of that vision!