First Church has Many Historical Firsts!
Originally organized in 1831, when South Bend was a village of less than 200 people, our church was then called First Methodist Episcopal Church. It was the first congregation established in St. Joseph County, Indiana. A traveling minister, Rev. Nehemiah Griffith, arranged the first prayer meeting, and soon after, a small group met regularly in Coquillard’s Tavern. It wasn’t long, however, until the young Methodist congregation built its own church building, a white framed structure a block south of our present facility.
Over the years, First Church outgrew several buildings. In 1914, our present sanctuary was dedicated. In 1926, the Chapel was added. Then, in 1959, the Education Building was constructed and consecrated.
Surprising Things First Church Helped Establish
First Church has a notable history of service in South Bend. In 1887, women of the church established a clinic and home for unmarried pregnant women, which grew and was then named Epworth Memorial Hospital, now known as Memorial Hospital, of Beacon Health System. The church founded Milton Home, a place for the elderly without family to care for them. The congregation was instrumental in the formation of the South Bend Public Library, the St. Joseph County YMCA, and Real Services.
Most recently, First Church has distinguished itself with its special ministries in the heart of the city. More than 30 years ago, the Upper Room Recovery Community, a residential program for people in recovery from addiction or abuse of alcohol or other drugs, was established. Today it houses more than 30 men, with plans for a women’s residence on the horizon. During that same time, the Downtown Soup Kitchen was started. It is estimated that over one-half million hearty meals have been served since the kitchen’s inception. First Church has an incredibly active Food Pantry that serves hundreds of families each month.