History of TUMC

Our Roots Go Deep

trinitybldgOur roots run deep and strong at Trinity United Methodist Church. Trinity church was planted through the ministry of William “Billy” Cravens, an enthusiastic Methodist Lay Preacher. Billy was a stonemason by trade who came to Lexington in 1793 from Rockingham to rebuild the burned Liberty Hall Academy on Mulberry Hill. Billy organized our first class meeting by 1794 at the home of his friend, John Burgess. The society, which was formed from that early beginning, bought a piece of land on what is now Randolph Street and built a small frame church for worship. This soon proved inadequate, and it was replaced by a brick structure on the same site.
 
Local preachers and strong laymen continued the work until the formation of the Lexington Circuit in 1832. In 1847, a division occurred over whether to belong to the Baltimore or Virginia Conference, and a large part of the congregation moved to a location on Jefferson Street. The remaining members met in the Rockbridge County Court House for seven years. This separation eventually paved the way for greater unity. By 1854, the church on Jefferson Street had become a station with preachers supplied from the Baltimore Conference, while the other group continued as part of a circuit supplied from the Virginia Conference. The two groups were reunited in 1864 to form a congregation of about 100 members, and they worshipped in the Jefferson Street church.
 
The present location on Main Street was acquired in 1889. The cornerstone of the first church on this site was laid in 1890. On October 8, 1894, the church (costing $16,000) was dedicated by Bishop W. W. Duncan. The Reverend Forest J. Prettyman was the pastor at the time, and the congregation numbered about 300.
 
The growth of the congregation and the attendance of Virginia Military Institute cadets and Washington and Lee University students made a larger building imperative after only 35 years. Accordingly, the present structure (costing approximately $120,000) was built during the pastorate of the Reverend T. M. Swann in 1926. The debt on this building proved a grievous burden during the depression years, but it was finally liquidated during the pastorate of Dr. Benjamin T. Candler. The church was dedicated by Bishop W. W. Peele on March 23, 1947. The sanctuary was renovated for that occasion. A new organ, replacing the one moved from the earlier building, was installed in 1949. Extensive remodeling of the education facilities was undertaken in 1957.
 
Today, we are known as United Methodists, a union in 1968 of The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church.

History Corner

Having learned a lot about John Wesley and the development of Methodism in England, I decided I wanted to learn more about the historical development of Methodism in America and what led to the creation of The United Methodist Church on 23 April 1968 (that important day in April also happens to be William Shakespeare’s birthday!). And I discovered a great source: The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church; the most recent edition was published in 2008. There are seven chapters, which I’ll use in the next seven History Corners. Chapter One is entitled “Roots, 1736-1816.” I’ll focus on five points in each chapter, using occasional quotations.
 
1. John Wesley was in the colony of Georgia from 1736 to 1738 but returned to England disappointed with his experience. “Organized Methodism in America began as a lay movement. Among its earliest leaders were Robert Strawbridge, an immigrant farmer who organized work about 1760 in Maryland and Virginia, Philip Embury and his cousin, Barbara Heck, who began work in New York in 1766, and Captain Thomas Webb, whose labors were instrumental in Methodist beginnings in Philadelphia in 1767. African Americans participated actively in these ground breaking and formational initiatives….”
2. Wesley sent a number of Methodists to work in America, the most important being Francis Asbury. “His energetic devotion to the principles of Wesleyan theology, ministry, and organization shaped Methodism in America in a way unmatched by any other individual.” He was aided in the 1780s by the work and commitment of Thomas Coke, who was also sent by Wesley.
 
3. “The American Revolution had a profound impact on Methodism. John Wesley’s Toryism and his writings against the revolutionary cause did not enhance the image of Methodism among many who supported independence. Furthermore, a number of Methodist preachers refused to bear arms to aid the patriots.”
 
4. At the so-called Christmas Conference held in Baltimore in 1784, The Methodist Episcopal Church in America was formed. The first Discipline appeared in 1785 and the first quadrennial General Conference took place in 1792.
 
5. Two other churches were established in this era, led by German-speaking people such as Philip Otterbein and Jacob Albright. Otterbein played a key role in creating the Church of the United Brethren in 1800, while Albright formed The Evangelical Association in 1803. They merged in 1946 and then joined The Methodist church in 1968 to form “The United Methodist Church” we know today.
Written by Tom Davis