Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the 150 years of service of the Lexington Methodist Church.
LEXINGTON – At the turn of the century, the Lexington Methodist congregation continued to grow and the need for larger space was needed. The result would be the church building that is still in use today.
With the Methodist congregation numbering almost 500 by the early 1900s, it was becoming clear that new church space was needed.
In 1906, Emma Temple, a devout Methodist, was nearing the end of her life and asked her brothers to set aside $1,000 from her estate to start a building fund for a new church, preparing the ground for the third church. Methodist.
Reverend BF Gaither, who had been pastor since 1907, was appointed chairman of the building committee and plans were drawn up for the third church. The committee also included AE Grantham, secretary; HV Temple, treasurer; John M. Neff, FJ Rosenberg, FL Fox and JD Eger.
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Lots had been purchased at the northeast corner of 9th and Grant Street, across the street north of the 1897 church.
There were long discussions in the construction committee and they came to the conclusion that the land they owned was not suitable. Then someone suggested that the new church be built on the lots south of the church then in use, which would place the new building on the northeast corner of 8th and Grant Streets. The committee agreed.
H. V. Temple, the treasurer of the committee and president of the First National Bank in Lexington, offered to purchase the lots, then owned by the church, at a price which would make purchase of the proposed new location possible.
Temple also offered to increase its building subscription by $500 more than it had previously pledged. Rosenberg and Neff followed suit and the others joined in on the plan. Over $3,000 had been subscribed before the meeting adjourned.
Work on the church began in the fall of 1909 when CC May laid the piles on which the foundations would be laid. Masonry work began in April 1910.
The Friday, April 29, 1910, edition of the Clipper-Citizen invited residents to the laying of the new cornerstone for the Methodist Church on May 2. Reverend Dr. RP Hammons of Kearney delivered the speech.
During the talk, Hammons told the Lexington congregation that he compared statistical notes on the Lexington and Kearney churches and found that in the same conference year they had the same number of memberships, 104.
“He hinted that the Lexington Church was no small potato,” reported the Clipper-Citizen of May 6, 1910.
At the end of the exercise, Reverend Gaither held up a galvanized iron box designed to fill the hollow space in the cornerstone of the new church.
Within this time capsule was placed a myriad of items including; a Bible, an old hymnal, the Book of Discipline, a 1910 church yearbook, the conference journal, the WHMS calendar, a list of names of elementary, home, and of the Cradle of Sunday School, Report of the Ladies’ Aid Society, Report of the Junior League, Report of the Sunday School May 1, 1910, a copy of the Epworth Herald, a copy of the Christian Advocate, a copy of the Central Christian Advocate, photographs of the old church, the Epworth League Chorus, Rev. Crane and his wife, Rev. Knight, Rev. Trites and his wife and Rev. Gaither and his wife, a list of church members, names of choir members, Epworth League Calendar and program, Bible Sunday school quarterly, a copy of The Classmate, half a dozen flowers collected by Reverend Gaither in Israel, seashells from the Sea of Galilee, the names of the graduating class of 1910 Lexington High School, the names of the 307 people who attended the cornerstone laying drill and the Reverend’s sermon hammers.
The May 6 Clipper-Citizen article said, “It would be interesting to be able to say when the box will be opened, what progress the world will have made, and how the descendants of church members have fared. But we can’t do it. Twenty-five, a hundred, or a thousand years may pass before the contents of the box are revealed again, and no one can know what the years will produce.
The cornerstone is still visible today at the southwest corner of the church, marked with an inscription “1910”.
After the dedication of the new church, construction of the brick structure began. It was said that no one had given more time and thought to the building than Alfred E. Grantham, the supervising architect, and John Neff, who both literally lived in the building during construction.
On September 27, 1910 Clipper-Citizen noted that Reverend Gaither was to pastor Lexington for another year. “To have him here to see the completion of the magnificent new church is a source of satisfaction for all.”
“A beautiful new structure will be dedicated by the members of the First Methodist Church of Lexington tomorrow,” read the Omaha World-Herald of December 10, 1910, “Starting with $1,000 to the bequest of Miss Emma Temple, who died there a few years ago, the building fund grew to $20,000.
“The building is designed in the Renaissance style, modified to meet the requirements of a modern church. The building is 58 feet wide by 100 feet long on the outside. The exterior walls are constructed of hard brick, clad on the outside in gray pressed brick facing with stone trim,” the World-Herald described.
“The paneling inside is hard pine and has a matte finish. On the first floor is the main auditorium, 49 feet by 49 feet in clear, with a ball floor and the Sunday school hall , which is separated from the main auditorium by a rolling partition. Adjacent to the Sunday school hall are the primary department, three classrooms and a ladies’ retreat room. The study and library of the pastor are also on the first floor,” the World-Herald said.
“On the upper floor is a large balcony in which each seat is approximately the same distance from the speaker. When everything is open to the speaker, this gives a seating capacity of 1,000 people”, The World-Herald said “The basement provides a place to meet the social needs of the church. It contains two large social rooms, a dining room, two toilets, a cloakroom and a kitchen.”
The £1,000 Blymer bell which had been purchased for the 1897 church was moved to the new church.
“One of the very attractive features of the main auditorium is the beautiful art glass windows, of which there are five, each measuring seven by 14 feet,” noted the World-Herald.
These five stained glass windows are in the church today and have been a source of comfort and inspiration to the congregation over the years.
The ‘Good Shepard’ window on the east side of the church was donated by the Ladies Aid Society and was considered ‘unequalled’ by many in the congregation. The window on the right was donated by the “Baraca class”, a group of young married couples.
The third window on the east side of the south entrance was dedicated to “Reno Post 112, Department of Nebraska”, named after the Lexington Grand Army of the Republic Post. The fourth window is dedicated “In memory of Jennie Hoback”.
On the west side of the church is the fifth window, donated by the Epworth League, a youth society. The sixth window is the “Reynolds” window and was a family memorial gift. The seventh window was donated by the Women’s Home Missionary Society, which later became part of the Ladies Aid Society.
The Dec. 11, 1910, dedication service was attended by 1,000 people, according to the Dec. 16 edition of the Clipper-Citizen. It was reported that over $13,600 was pledged on the day of the inauguration, which was used to pay for the building and install a pipe organ.
“Therefore, shall Sunday, December 11, 1910, forever be remembered for the Methodists of this city,” read the Clipper-Citizen, “They met in the new church, which speaks for itself, the well-heated, well-ventilated and well-lighted condition and the beautiful architectural structure, filled them with joy that the business had been started and completed.
With the construction of the church in 1910, the old church from 1897 was demolished and most of the timber was used to build the new presbytery, finished in 1915. It would be used until 1963, when it was sold for $1,500 and moved to 710 E. 7th Street.
The church as it was built would serve the Methodist congregation for nearly four decades, until growing numbers in the late 1940s again hinted at possible expansion of the church.
“Here is a church that for seventy years has captured the hearts, imaginations, prayers and loyalties of the people who made Nebraska great,” Reverend Laurence Davis wrote in the early 1950s.