Our History

The History of First-Centenary United Methodist Church is the story of two churches: Centenary Methodist Church and First Methodist Church. These two congregations played prominent roles in the civic and spiritual life of Chattanooga for more than a century and merged to form one church, believing that together they could serve God in the community in a more effective way.

The first Methodist church in Chattanooga was organized in a log cabin at the corner of Lookout Street and Georgia Avenue in 1839. During the occupation of Chattanooga by Union forces, persons who had been members of northern Methodist churches organized their own church, First Methodist Episcopal Church, that became known to generations of Chattanoogans as the "Stone Church". (Its steeple still stands at the intersection of McCallie and Georgia Avenues.) Through their connections with the north, the congregation was able to get support for the building of a university (now known as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga).

After the Civil War, the congregations of each church grew in size and influence. In the next 100 years, each built and outgrew several buildings. Both churches were sensitive to the needs of the less fortunate in the community. Centenary supplied the first city missionary and was instrumental in beginning the Methodist Neighborhood Centers and Asbury Center at Oak Manor. Impetus for a Goodwill organization came from First Methodist; and both churches gave assistance to the Traveler's Aid Society and the Florence Crittenton Home.

In 1911, the two churches initiated a movement toward unification of the branches of the Methodist church that had withdrawn from the parent church. On May 10, 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church became one great church: The Methodist Church.
In 1967, the First Methodist and Centenary congregations merged and a year later, the Methodist Church combined with the United Brethren. The name of the new church then became First-Centenary United Methodist Church.

In 1971, the congregation voted to build a new sanctuary and on April 8, 1973, the first worship service was held in the new building. Designs for a new educational building soon followed and in 1983, both buildings were dedicated.

In 1992, as an outreach to area families, we established the Children’s Enrichment Center, a day care center for young children. The Preparing the Way campaign in 1998 supported the renewal of church facilities, and the Welcome Center on Oak Street was completed in 2000. In 2003, the gymnasium was renovated to become the Worship Center for The Vine, and The Center for Discipleship Formation became a reality.

In 2007, construction began on The Oak Street Center which was completed in 2008. It houses our Worship Center for The Vine, a kitchen, a large classroom, and a spacious lobby. During the construction, we also renovated the core area of our present building. Not only does The Vine serve as a house of worship for our members, it is now a home church for Mustard Tree Ministries, with dinner and worship every Sunday evening.

Chancel Windows

Eighteen magnificent stained glass windows were prepared for this church by the Willet Stained Glass Studios of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who have produced some of the most outstanding stained glass work to be found in the world. All the windows are executed in faceted glass. Brilliantly-colored glass, usually an inch or more in thickness, is cut Into the desired size and shapes.  The inner surface of certain pieces is then faceted to enhance the design and add a jewel-like quality. The matrix of epoxy rosin is poured around the carefully arranged pieces of glass to hold them in place. This forms a structural unit of great strength. The thickness of the glass assures the breath-taking radiance and purity of color found in these windows.
“The Story of Redemption”
The “gold” window technique was developed by the Willet Studios. A background of jeweled untextured, leaded glass is covered with a sculptured lead surface which is “flown” with 23 Karat gold leaf. By day the story is told in stained glass, cataracts of color in cliffs of masonry and by night is told by the gold repousse.

The Left Lancet
Beginning at the lower left is seen the story of Adam and Eve driven from the Garden of Eden. Next above, Abraham is ready to offer Isaac, a type a vicarious sacrifice; Moses is lifting up the brazen serpent in the wilderness; then the great prophet, Isaiah, views Jesus as the Suffering Servant.

The Two Center Lancets
These are scenes from the life of Jesus. At the bottom, the Incarnation with the Holy Family at Bethlehem. Above, John the Baptist baptizes Jesus as the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers above. The Sermon on the Mount is next. Above this is Jesus with the eleven Apostles at the Last Supper. Judas is seen leaving to betray him. At the top left, Jesus dies on the cross. On the right, Christ rises from the empty tomb. Three empty crosses of Calvary are seen in the distance. Scenes from Jesus’ life are linked and framed by a decorative vine and branches, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” The fruits of these branches are the symbols of the twelve Apostles.

The Right Lancet
These scenes are from the book of Acts. At the bottom, Peter is laying his hands in blessing on Matthias who is taking the place of Judas. Above is pictured Pentecost with the descent of the Holy Spirit. Tongues of fire appear over each head. Next, the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who dies forgiving his murderers. Next above is Saul of Tarsus with his vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road, as he hears the voice, “Why persecutest thou Me?” This is the largest “gold window” In the world and represents one of the crowning achievements of the Willet Studio artists and craftsmen.

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