History of First United Methodist Church of Lodi, California
In the 1850s, settlement in the Lodi area began in Woodbridge and Lockeford. Methodists met at the D.J. Staples home in Lockeford. Worship was led by a circuit rider, Rev. Henry B. Sheldon, appointed to the Calaveras Circuit in 1853. The circuit included Calaveras County and all of San Joaquin County outside of Stockton. Rev. Sheldon traveled the circuit by horseback and by walking.
The Harmony Grove Church, about one mile west of Lockeford, was completed in 1862 and dedicated on June 30, 1863. Services were held regularly until 1883 when a new church opened in Lockeford.
In 1860 the Oak Grove Church was built south west of Lodi. On Armstrong Road, about half a mile west of West Lane, there was a cemetery on the north side of the road. The Oak Grove Church was located next to the cemetery.
Between 1853-1870 the churches in San Joaquin County outside of Stockton were a circuit with as many as twelve preaching places. Around 1860, the name of the circuit changed from Calaveras to Woodbridge. The preacher’s remuneration consisted of whatever donations were made; annual pay ranged from $287 to $480. The strenuous work was hard on the health and many circuit riders died at an early age.
In 1870, a subscription to a general fund was raised for the building of a church open to all denominations to be called the Union Church. The building was constructed at the northwest corner of School and Oak Streets. Three services were held on the opening Sunday, February 6, 1871, but before midnight, the structure had burned to the ground. A candle left burning ignited a stud and burned the roof before the rest of the building was consumed. Additional funds were raised and another larger building was constructed on the same foundation. Since the Methodists were the only organized denomination at the time, the church was dedicated by and turned over to them.
The congregation grew, necessitating a larger facility. On June 10, 1919, ground was broken for the present sanctuary building on the southwest corner of Oak and Church Streets. The contract price was $37,000. In addition, a social hall was built using lumber from the original church building. A new organ with memorial chimes was installed. In 1922 the congregation had 596 members and a Sunday school of 553.
In 1950 the sanctuary was renovated, including installation of the Moller Pipe Organ and Schulmerich Carillon Bells. In 1956 an Education wing was added for nursery, kindergarten, and first grade children. As growth continued, an administration wing was added on the east side of the sanctuary and a new Fellowship Hall was constructed, largely with the labor of church members. In May, 1958, the church had 882 members. Several members of the congregation have gone on to serve the larger Methodist Church in evangelism, missions, Heifer Project, and local church ministry.
Sunday School for children, youth and adults has been an important part of the congregation’s ministry. Study of scripture is key to our Christian faith. United Methodists also value the resources of Christian tradition, reason, and experience as we discern God’s guidance for the living of each day. We are blessed with many people who are passionate about sharing the faith with others and are teaching classes for all ages.
Music Ministry has long been a strength of the congregation. Many dedicated choir members have faithful lifted their voices in song in our Chancel Choir. The Celestial Bells Hand bell choir plays each month. A Children’s choir, SHINE (Serving Him IN Everything), meets during the academic year.
The historic McCall Memorial Pipe Organ is now integrated with a Rodgers Trillium Masterpiece 958 Console, including over 150 ranks of digital sounds. It features 20 ranks of historical Moller & Whalley Pipes, four ranks of which date to the installation of the original pipe organ in 1920.
A vibrant youth ministry has nurtured the lives of many teens. A well-loved event known in the community were the ice cream socials held for 42 years. The youth produced plays, along with homemade ice cream. Today in addition to spiritual formation and fellowship, youth participate in an annual mission trip with Sierra Service Project, serving a Native American Reservation or an urban area. Many attend summer church camps sponsored by the Conference.
Little Methodist Preschool was opened in the fall of 1967 when church members saw a need for an additional pre-school in Lodi. The playground was modeled after the Bing Preschool at Stanford University. Although it was started as a co-op preschool, today all classes are taught by credentialed preschool teachers.
In 1997 a Volunteers in Mission Team began with the first of many mission trips to Mexico, Guatemala, Angola, Africa; Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as several locations in CA. The third Sunday of each month the Sacramento Street Ministry with youth and adults prepare a hot breakfast and sack lunches, which are served at the Salvation Army’s Hope Harbor Shelter to 85-100 people. This ministry was started in 1995 to involve youth in service to others. Other Lodi churches provide the meals on other Sundays of the month.