Central Park History

Central Park History 2017-02-22T20:15:45+00:00

Overview

As part of the United Methodist denomination we recall our founder John Wesley’s desire to address
the problems of life including alcoholism that destroy serenity and spirituality not only of the afflicted but also those who are a part of their lives.Our history as a congregation dates back to its founding in 1848 and as such is one of the oldest protestant congregations in the State of Minnesota. The foresight, faith and continuing support of the remnant congregation at the turn of this century allowed the recovery ministry to begin. The resulting new ministries have come into being because of the willingness of the past congregation to blend and accept the vital force of evolution as the congregation has changed.

History

The first Methodist missionaries, Alfred Brunson and David King, came by boat to St. Paul in 1844. They were accompanied by John Holton, a farmer, and James Thompson, a Negro slave, who had been purchased and freed to become an interpreter for the mission to the Indians in the area. The Rev. Benjamin Close organized the church under the name Market Street Church on December 31, 1848, when St. Paul had a population of 150. It was the first Protestant house of worship in the territory. It was the first brick building in St. Paul and cost $2,825. It was located on the site of what is now the St. Paul Hotel.

Market and Jackson Street Churches
The population of St. Paul increased over the next few years, as did attendance at the Market Street Church. By 1860, St. Paul had a population of 10,401. In 1855-1856 a new church building was built at 9th and Jackson to provide sufficient space for the congregation. The understanding was that once completed, the church would vacate the Market Street structure and relocate to the new building. When the time came, a few prominent families refused to leave the Market Street Church. The congregation split and those who stayed eventually moved on to St. Anthony Hill and became the First Methodist Episcopal Church at Portland & Victoria; the rest of the congregation moved to the new Jackson Street building and became the Jackson Street Methodist Episcopal Church.

By 1880, the population of St. Paul had grown significantly to 41,473. Again the congregation from the Jackson Street Methodist Church had outgrown its facilities. In October 1886, the cornerstone was laid for the Central Park Methodist Episcopal Church on 12th and Minnesota Streets.

Central Park Church Cornerstone Laying
This name was chosen because of its close proximity to Central Park, which was just being developed at the time. Designed by George Wirth, the new church had one of the city’s most conspicuous steeples. It was 165 feet high and held unusually graceful proportions. The church was built of Dresbach limestone and featured bulging corner turrets and an assortment of conical roofs. Besides the beautiful architecture of the church, the feature that made it known for long distances was the lighted cross at the top of the steeple. The total cost of the structure was $76,000.
Central Park Church
Many organizations and groups from the urban community used the building facilities of Central Park Methodist when in need of a place to gather. One of these organizations, started in the basement of the 12th and Minnesota structure, is what is now Goodwill Industries. Another organization, the Community Board School, provided training, education and activities to many people regardless of age, color, faith or nationality. The Community Board School was directed by long time member Audrey Hawes. It eventually became part of the United Way.
Longlay and Lapham
On Good Friday 1940, a fire broke out in the basement of the church. As 500 people filed out of the building, the organist, Mrs. G. S. Stephens, continued to play as smoke rose up through the floor. The church sustained much damage and services were held at the YMCA during the refurbishing period.
Ladies Aid and Womens Group
The church on 12th and Minnesota served the downtown community in a multitude of ways from 1886 until 1961 when it was razed to make way for Interstate 94. Many homes, at least a dozen apartments and row houses, churches, a school and businesses were either completely demolished or moved. Much of the displaced community had to move out of downtown. Many former downtown residents moved out to the suburbs and began to attend church closer to their new home. The Central Park area had been very much a residential area and the congregation had to do some real soul searching in order to determine where their new church building was to be located. If they moved out to the suburbs, they may have been able to retain their congregation numbers as well as the established financial support. After much discussion, the congregation voted to stay in downtown St. Paul, feeling that Methodism needed to continue its presence in the inner city.

The new church design was contemporary and became a subject of debate among members of the congregation who were having a difficult time with the loss of their magnificent old church. However, we do retain numerous reminders of the past on display.This location at 14th and Jackson had been determined to be the best place to build a new church. The cost of building this structure was $676,000 and was paid in full in 1976.

639 Jackson Street Church
In 1969, the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Episcopal Churches were united and the word “episcopal” was eliminated from the name. Central Park Methodist Episcopal Church then became Central Park United Methodist Church. We retained our name as Central Park United Methodist Church even though during an expansion of the Minnesota State Capitol grounds, Central Park was almost completely eliminated.
Even though some of the families displaced during the construction of Interstate 94 continued to attend Central Park, as well as other families who felt a strong tie to Central Park and wanted to keep worshiping here, these families were not enough to keep up the financial needs of the church. The close proximity of the church to Regions Hospital (formerly Ramsey County Medical Center) proved to be of vital importance. Central Park began to rent space to Regions.
639 Jackson Street Church
The lighted cross was not a part of the original design. When Central Park lost their building at 12th and Minnesota, we also lost our beloved steeple and lighted cross. In the mid-1960′s, the Jackson Street lighted cross was donated by Mrs. Wilbur Hoffman, in memory of her husband.

In 2000, after attempts at increasing the membership of the church with different focuses and programs, we came up with the idea of “The Recovery Church”, a place where alcoholics, addicts, broken people would not only be tolerated, but welcomed and loved with open arms. From a very modest beginning of one service a month, we soon added a second service every week to our schedule. Gratefully, the Recovery Community has found a home here.

In 2009, we sold the building at 639 Jackson Street and were looking for a new home in St. Paul. We temporarily worshiped at the Berean Church at 441 Rice Street.

August of 2009 put us on the path of a new journey. We purchased a building at 253 State Street, Saint Paul. The remodeling process began and continues to progress with the help of many dedicated volunteers. We have been worshiping here since 2010.

253 State Street Church
Congregation numbers varied dramatically over the years. In 1940, we had a membership of 1,133, In June of 1999 there were approximately 20 worshipers each week, today we have an average of 350, with over 800 using our building for various recovery meetings. Through creative and innovative ways, led by The Rev. Dr. Jo Campe, Central Park – The Recovery Church expanded its programs and it effectively serves the urban community of St. Paul through fellowship, mission outreach program and worship.

Pastor Campe retired December 31, 2011.

Who We are Today

The Recovery Church (Central Park United Methodist Church) is a Christian community that is open to diverse concepts of spirituality, accepting all who share a non-judgmental belief in the Christian values of trust, compassion, openness and service.

The Recovery Church has a large community that worships at 9:00 and 11:00 AM each week. The services are called “The Recovery of Hope,” in that they offer participants the opportunity to deepen their recovery experience and to develop a stronger relationship with God, as they understand God.

The Recovery Church is neither a typical church nor a twelve-step program, and although we draw from both traditions, we seek to embody the spirit of God without creating boundaries for its expression.

We continue to grow and explore new ways to serve our Christian community.

“What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.”
― John Wesley