Historical Image Gallery
The slideshow below captures memories across decades of First Church including church leaders, different buildings, and multiple renovations. Enjoy your tour!
The Story Of First Church
First United Methodist Church (“First Church”) is a leader in progressive religion, promoting access and rights for all persons to know God’s love and sent to join God in transforming the world. The history of First Church is as colorful as the city it serves. We are older than the State of Texas and the longest-standing Methodist Church west of the Mississippi River.
To view an infographic of our history, click here.
It was 1839, and Circuit Rider, Rev. John Haynie from Tennessee, served the area from the town of Bastrop to the city of Austin. Worship was held in a log house built by the men of the community and located south of what is now Wooldridge Park and west of the Austin History Center. As the Republic of Texas was constituted in 1940, Rev. Haynie also served as Chaplain of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Texas.
Haynie was succeeded in 1841 by the Rev. Josiah Whipple, who preached in the Austin Circuit for two years. Clashes between settlers and the local American Indian tribes made it impossible for the church to continue in an organized fashion from 1843-45.
After conditions improved, the Rev. Homer S. Thrall was appointed to lead the Austin Methodists. He had to regroup the congregation which by this point had scattered. In 1847, a lot was purchased at the northeast corner of Congress and Cedar (now Fourth Street) for $26 and a board and batten church was constructed.
In late 1853, the original church building was sold to the Christian Church, and lots were purchased at the northeast corner of Brazos and Mulberry (now Tenth Street). A small, red-brick church was commenced in 1854 during the pastorate of the Rev. John W. Phillips. This new Methodist Episcopal Church was the worship home to 90 members, including 30 Negro slaves and servants. By 1858, the membership had grown to 231 members, including 135 slaves. After emancipation, many freed slaves left the church to form Wesley Chapel Methodist Church.
The Austin congregation worshiped in the red-brick building until 1883 when, under the leadership of the Rev. A.E. Goodwyn, it was razed and replaced by a steepled structure built in the Roman style of architecture.
It was in 1892, during the pastorate of the Rev. R.J. Briggs, that the church reached its peak 19th-century membership of 675. For a time, the church was called Central Church South; later it was referred to as Tenth Street Church until 1902, when it officially became the First Methodist Church.
In 1923, the First Methodist Church constructed what is now the basement of the present structure at Twelfth and Lavaca Streets. Built during the four-year pastorate of the Rev. Edward R. Barcus, the upper portion of the main building was completed in 1928 under Rev. W.F. Bryan was pastor. Total cost was $200,000.
After the Annual Conference of 1940, nine years of dynamic growth began for the church with the appointment of the Rev. W. Kenneth Pope. Progress included the addition of a church library, the beginning of radio broadcasts on KTBC and, in 1946, the burning of the mortgage notes of the sanctuary building. Also during Pope’s pastorate, the parsonage north of the main building was converted into an education building, and the Popes moved into a new parsonage in Pemberton Heights.
Growth continued and in 1951 the congregation unanimously approved the erection of a new education building under the pastorate of the Rev. Marvin S. Vance.
Throughout the mid-50s First Methodist began experiencing some of the problems confronting downtown churches throughout the country. As the population moved away from the inner city, neighborhood churches flourished while downtown churches saw gradual declines in membership and attendance.
Despite the challenges in attracting people downtown, First Church remained vibrant and continued to expand its facilities in subsequent decades. In 1962, the lower floor of the main building was remodeled to make room for a new nursery and childcare center. New kitchen facilities were also built. Remodeling in 1968 created new staff offices among other improvements.
In 1971, through the inspiration of members H. W. “Woody” Wilson and Stan Lambert, an Endowment Fund was established. That endowment has continued to grow, and investment provides annual revenue for facility improvements even now.
Under the leadership of the Rev. Jack Heacock in 1977, First Church voted to purchase the north parking lot. The church created the preschool and developed new classes on Sundays and during the week. Thousands of Central Texas television viewers watched the church services on live television. In 1985, the church purchased the Oetting furniture building located at the northwest corner of Thirteenth Street and Lavaca Street, cater-corner to the Sanctuary building.
In the spring of 1990, during the pastorate of the Rev John C. Gilbert, the church celebrated its sesquicentennial with “Jubilee 150.” Gilbert also led the church in the innovative remodeling of the Chapel.
Gilbert was succeeded by Rev. John McMullen in 1994. McMullen served as Senior Pastor for 17 years and oversaw the construction of the newest addition to the FUMC campus – a 22,602 square foot, two-story family life center which houses almost a dozen Sunday school classrooms, full gym with basketball courts and a commercial kitchen. Named after Bruno Schmidt and Kathleen Jones, two long-standing and beloved assistant pastors and educators, the building was dedicated in 1998.
In 2010, the Southwest Texas Conference appointed Barbara Ruth and John Wright, the church’s first clergy couple, as FUMC Co-Pastors. During John and Barbara’s tenure FUMC restructured the church’s finances and renovated Wesley Hall, exposing the early balustrades of the original two-story sanctuary.
They also lead the congregation through its affirmative vote to become a member of Reconciling Ministries that seeks to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the policy and practice of the United Methodist Church. FUMC was unable to fully implement this policy, however, because of contradictions with the Book of Discipline.
In 2016, Rev. Taylor Fuerst joined FUMC as only the second female Senior Pastor and continues the work of equality started by her predecessors. In the summer of 2019, the congregation of FUMC, in light of recent denominational actions that double-down on discrimination, declared by an overwhelming majority the church’s intent to host, and support its pastors in officiating, the blessing of marriage for same sex couples. While the United Methodist Church continues to negotiate a way forward, FUMC stands firmly on the side of justice and inclusion.