Central UMC’s History
Revised 2008 by Kurt Young* Updated 2010 by Diane Reamer-Evans
In the beginning.
Toledo’s Old West End was originally Toledo’s first upscale suburb. At the end of the 19th Century, the rich and powerful of Toledo built large homes in the area bounded by Monroe Street, Collingwood Boulevard, Detroit Avenue and Central Avenue. This area is now part of the city of Toledo.
Collingwood Boulevard became the predominant place for the building of houses of worship. Local legend is that the expression “Holy Toledo” comes from a visitor being driven up Collingwood Boulevard and, after seeing the approximately one dozen churches, temples, and the catholic cathedral, exclaiming “holy Toledo, you’ve got a lot of churches in this town!”
However, the Methodist Episcopal Church (later to become the United Methodist Church) did not build its facility on Collingwood Boulevard. Instead, the Old West End was first served by Monroe Street United Methodist, which is located well outside of the Old West End. But soon two other churches would fill this need, Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church (then at the corner of Delaware and Parkwood, now on Central Avenue in Sylvania) and later Central.
1896: The birth of Central.
The pastor and members of Monroe Street Methodist Episcopal Church saw the need for services in the Central Avenue and Detroit Avenue area. They rented rooms above a store on Albion Street. Central began as a Sunday School on February 23, 1896 in an upper storeroom. Rev. S. C. Wright preached and organized the Sunday School, and Mr. G. W. Farley was elected the first Superintendent. For the first year, the work was carried on by the pastor and laypeople of the Monroe Street Methodist. At the end of one year, the average attendance of the school was 85.
In May 1897 Rev. H. W. Leatherman called a meeting of all the people interested in organizing a new church. This meeting was well attended, and the name Central Methodist Episcopal Church was chosen. Members were enrolled, officials were elected, and the general organization perfected.
The first official board meeting was held at the home of G. D. Norton, 3155 Detroit Ave., and the business at hand was the selection of building lots and the approval of building plans for the first church. Then ground was purchased on the corner of Central and Detroit Avenue. The church was rushed to completion during the summer and dedicated on September 6, 1897.
(This building was later torn down in the Spring of 1963 to allow for other development.)
Early1900’s: Central grows — everyone welcome.
Central’s growth was so rapid that it became a Station appointment in the fall of 1902. It is recorded that during the pastorate of Rev. Daniel Stecker the membership doubled and that by 1906, nine years after the church building was dedicated, it was too small for the congregation. Three storerooms were built on land adjoining the church to help house the Sunday school.
In 1911 a temporary tabernacle was built at Central and Glenwood. Here the congregation worshipped for two years in frontier style with wooden benches and sawdust for a floor. The congregation worshipped there until they were able to move into their new building on July 27, 1913. This brick building, which still stands at Central and Scottwood, cost $28,000 to construct. During the tabernacle period and the building of the new Central Methodist Church the pastor was Rev. C. J. Yeisley.
The attendance at the church grew during this time to a peak of 750 in worship, with over 400 in adult and youth Sunday school classes throughout the neighborhood. At that time, Central set itself apart as the church where people could attend in their coveralls. Local legend is that workers from the Willys Overland (later to become the Jeep plant) and the Chevy Transmission Plant, both located blocks from the Church, would walk to service on Sunday, straight from work.
1930-1960s: Money challenges, and Sprucing Up.
The Board of Trustees kept the old property and improved it into storerooms and apartments. Thus the church went into the real estate business for a period, but this venture proved unsuccessful.
In 1937, with the Great Depression, it became necessary to do something about the overburdening debt of $91,000.00. The bank holding the mortgage offered a settlement in which they became owner of the business block at Detroit and W. Central and a dwelling next to the church on W. Central, and asking for a cash amount of $17,500.00. The offer was accepted and Dr. W. J. Dunham and Dr. W. T. Blume called in the Board of Home Missions and Church Extension to help the congregation raise the required funds. The members and friends raised $8,000.00, in cash and secured a new loan for $9,500.00 which was to be paid off in seven years. By November, 1942 this amount had been reduced to $7,050.00.
When, in September 1939, the conference appointed pastor Rev. Allan W. Caley, the people were ready for another forward march in the progressive history of their Church. During the winter of 1941 the Church was redecorated, the aisles were carpeted, the choir was re-robed, the communion altar was rebuilt, a Cross and candle set and new collection plates were presented as memorial gifts, and a new heating system was installed. These improvements were all paid for on Dedication Day with the exception of the furnace. The Church was rededicated to the worship of God and the service of mankind by Bishop H. Lester Smith on March 9th, 1941.
At last on May 7,1944 came a mortgage burning day. This was a time of great rejoicing. Again Central felt the need of expansion, and the Parish House was built, providing two large rooms and a pastor’s study. The rooms were named after the great leaders of Methodism, John Wesley and Francis Asbury. The consecration service was March 3, 1957. At this same time the youth of the church made a chapel of the old choir robing room.
At the Christmas service in 1959 the Battin-Rogers Memorial Chimes were used for the first time. The Altar Guild made a Sacristy of one of the organ rooms to prepare materials for the worship services. With much hard work and effort by the congregation, the new debt for the construction of the annex was retired and on April 28, 1963 a second Mortgage Burning Service was held.
1970’s-present: A Reconciling Congregation.
In the late 1970′s the church was approached by Rev. Chester Chambers, a local Methodist minister, to be the host facility for meetings and activities of PRO/Toledo. The church agreed, and over the years expanded its contact with and participation in the lesbian and gay community of Toledo. The Good Samaritan Parish of the Metropolitan Church conducted services for several years at Central Church.
In 1984, a new movement emerged, originally called the Reconciling Congregations Program, now known as the Reconciling Ministries Network. The Reconciling Congregations Program was created in response to the May 1984 Baltimore General Conference’s decision to amend the Book of Discipline to state that “no self-avowed, practicing homosexual shall be ordained or appointed in the United Methodist Church.”
At that time, Central was led by Pastor Howard Abts, who still is among the longest serving pastors in Central’s History. The decision to become a Reconciling Ministry is often a difficult one for congregations to undertake. However, Central found the process quite easy, and it became one of the first in the nation, and definitely the first in the State of Ohio and in the West Ohio Conference.
Central Church found itself in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s — much like its neighborhood — a great area for growth needing the right spark. Part of that spark occurred with the addition of a new pastor in the person of the Reverend Dr. Larry Whittington Clark (now Larry Clark). Under Dr. Clark’s tenure, Central had had two pastors, one a white male and the other a black female. The congregation became quite diverse, with a true multiracial mix and a significant number of gay members.
Members of the congregation have been active in national movements to fully include gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and trans-gendered persons in the life of the Methodist Church. In the past, a member of Central was a treasurer of the national Reconciling Congregation program. Four members from Central presented testimony before the Committee to Study Homosexuality, a group set up by the 1988 General Conference of the United Methodist Church to reexamine the church’s position on homosexuality. Several members of Central were also key in founding the Church Within a Church Movement. In 2007, the movement’s co-convener, plus the anti-racism and resource chairs, were members of Central.
Helping Those in Need.
Central engaged in several different programs to provide economic justice in the 1980’s and 90’s during the tenures of Pastors Abts, Clark, and Rebecca Gifford-Mitchell. Central played host to a free store, where people could obtain low cost and free household items and clothes. Joining with other central city churches, Central helped found FOCUS, an agency that continues to this day helping the homeless rebuild their lives. Also, Grand Central Station was created to help the students of Glenwood Elementary School.
Glenwood Elementary School, which was torn down at the end of school year 2005, to make way for the construction of a new building, has a proud history. However, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the school’s test scores had fallen to some of the lowest in the Toledo Public Schools. Central, along with other churches in the neighborhood, provided a safe space and after school programs for the children of Glenwood. Thanks in part to a series of robberies of the church in the Summer of 1999, Grand Central Station hosted a computer lab, among other education and enrichment opportunities. Grand Central Station went on hiatus during the school construction as it’s children were attending other schools.
New Energy in the New Millennium.
In 1999, Pastor Gifford-Mitchell departed, and Reverend Cheri Holdridge became Central’s new pastor. At that time, Central’s attendance had fallen to an average of 27 in worship. Through a series of initiatives, and assistance from the Conference, Central began a revitalization under Pastor Holdridge’s leadership. From 1999 to 2004, worship attendance rose rapidly, over 145%. In that time, Grand Central Station was incorporated as a separate, non-profit corporation to allow it to apply for different funding sources.
Also, Central applied for and was a granted a 10-10-10 Missionary, Tanya Pike, through the General Board Global Ministry. Tanya was placed at Central to work on adult faith formation, and she created a Servant Leadership School at Central. Through her work, a group of individuals from the Findlay area began conducting group study together and worshipping at Central. To accommodate their worship needs, a Sunday night service was begun. Later, this service became the Open Door Community Church.
In 2004, Central celebrated its 20th Anniversary of being a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network with guest preacher Jimmy Creech, a national leader in the movement for full human rights for gay persons. Over several years, Central hosted events with a variety of other progressive Christian guest speakers including Paul Nixon, Harry Knox and Jim Wallis.
2008: The Big Move.
In 2007, the Tabernacle of Faith, a non-denominational church worshipping from a location on Detroit Ave, experienced a tragedy when their building was destroyed by fire. Central reached out to its neighbor church and offered to share its space. In 2008, Central, having found a larger, accessible space in Lincoln Hall Auditorium (in Collingwood Presbyterian), sold its property to Tabernacle of Faith. The first service in this new space was held on June 1, 2008.
In 2008, Cheri Holdridge stepped down as the church’s longest serving pastor and began the process of planting a new church, the Village Northwest Ohio. Rev. Kathleen Richards became pastor of Central. She served until 2009, when Pastor Andy Machin came to Central. Under Pastor Andy’s leadership, Central continues to be a voice for justice as a Reconciling Congregation, a strong supporter of missions to the economically disenfranchised, and a warm and welcoming church family.
From a bold initiative in 1897, Central grew to birth several new churches, provide after school tutoring and meals to children of the neighborhood, and provide a safe worship space for people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic status. The members of Central are proud of their great history and look forward with excitement to new challenges and adventures as move forward in faith to build our unique future together.
*This history was made possible by the hard work of several who came before me. Parts of it are taken directly from the Mortgage Burning Day program written by Miss Katherine Baer and edited by Mrs. Violet Ritter in 1944. Other portions were written for anniversary celebrations of the decision to become a reconciling congregation. My thanks to Nancy Hatfield and the other saints of the church who have preserved this history for me to pass along. – Kurt Young