Centenary United Methodist Church, currently located at 331 East State Street, Jacksonville, IL began on October 17, 1821. Rev. John Granville formed the first Methodist Society within the limits of Jacksonville. The society met in the double-wide log cabin of “Father” John Jordan. The speaker would preach from the roofed, but open, area between the two rooms, with women and children in one room and the men in the other. The site of this cabin was the northeast corner of what is now East State Street and Brown Street.
The First Church
In 1830 the Methodists built a small brick church on the north side of East Morgan Street. This was the first brick church in Morgan County and probably in the state. On September 25, 1833, this congregation became the first Methodist society in Illinois to become a “station charge” (one congregation alone supporting a pastor) as distinguished from circuit charges (two or more churches served by the same pastor). Rev. Thomas J. Starr was appointed the first pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Jacksonville (now Centenary United Methodist).
Growing in Christ
By 1836, the membership had grown to 209 members. In 1838 or 1839 the Morgan Street church was sold and the congregation moved to its new location at 231 East State Street, the present site of the Times Theater. One of the pastors in this era was Rev. W.D.R Trotter, the son-in-law of Peter Cartwright.
In 1840-41, Rev. John McElfresh, great-grandfather of Dr. McKendree M. Blair, having been ordained by Bishop Frances Asbury and elder by Bishop McKendree, was appointed to Centenary.
Centenary and MacMurray College
About this time, Peter Akers felt the need for the establishment of a college in this locality for the education of women. He circulated among his friends and fellow pastors a paper petitioning the Illinois Conference to establish such a school looking to the education of minister’s wives. Rev. John McElfresh in one of his last official acts prior to his death signed the petition.
It wasn’t until 1846 that a charter was granted with Jacksonville as the site of the new school. On October 10, 1846, the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Conference Female Academy of the new school held its first meeting. That academy is now known as MacMurray College. Classes began October 1, 1848. As there was no building to house the new academy, the Board of Trustees arranged with the officials of Centenary to use the basement of the church for the school.
The linkage between Centenary and MacMurray College is long and deep. Centenary not only housed its first classes, it provided space for her chapel services, served for many years as her college church and spiritually nurtured many of her leaders, students and friends.
By 1847 & 1848, the most extensive revival in the history of the church occurred under the leadership of Rev. J. B. Corrington when 600 people were converted to Christ, among them some of the most prominent people in Jacksonville. Richard Yates, later to be the Civil War era governor of Illinois was one of those who came to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior.
In 1850, a new Methodist Church was erected on West State Street, and was called the “West Church” (now Grace Church) and the church on East State Street was called the “East Church” (now Centenary).
Moving to Our Current Location
By 1866, plans were made for the church to move to its current location, 331 East State Street. The name was changed from the “East Church” to Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church. The word “Episcopal” was omitted during the unification of Methodism in 1940 and with the merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren in 1967 the name was changed to Centenary United Methodist Church.
Across the years, additions were made both to the interior and exterior of the 1866 building such as the balcony, chandelier and blue neon cross that was a beacon of light throughout Jacksonville. An educational wing was added in 1962, the sanctuary remodeled in 1966, and the usage of an elevator began in 1984.
The Centenary congregation reached out in a variety of ministries: establishment of a deaf ministry, support of Boy Scout Troop 103, covenant relationship with a missionary in the Philippines, covenant relationship and missionary-work visits with Red Bird Missionary in Kentucky, food for Russia, aid to victims of the 1993 flooding; of the 2005 Tsunami; and of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Missions and ministry to others continue to be a central focus of the Centenary Church family.
In 1995, the congregation voted to raze the 1866 building and erect a new building on the same site beside the educational wing. The first worship service in the current sanctuary was the Easter sunrise service, April 12, 1998.
Today, Centenary United Methodist Church is a thriving, growing-spiritually and numerically, vibrant, and exciting church. It is an excellent congregation to grow in Christ and in fellowship with each other. The congregation stands on the shoulders of those “saints of old” who have left a rich legacy. Together, our mission is to “be believers in Christ who gather to PRAISE God, GROW and SERVE,” for this time and for the future. Come and help write the next chapter in the history of Centenary United Methodist Church.