Sunday, May 19, 2013
A United Methodist Congregation
History of Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church
Munsey Memorial began in 1871 as the East Market Street Methodist Church, built of handmade bricks at a cost of $4,000. The church was part of the heritage of the early Methodist circuit riders that brought the gospel to the pioneer settlements of the American frontier.
Bishop Francis Asbury preached in William Nelson’s cabin in 1788, and shortly thereafter Nelson’s Chapel, the first Methodist church in the area, was built on a site near the present-day Knob Creek Road. A few years later, William Nelson’s son, James, donated land for the Brush Creek Campground on the site of the present Masonic building on West Watauga Avenue. Its permanent shelter was built adjacent to a spring and a large stand of oak trees, and it served as a center of Methodism in East Tennessee until the coming of the railroad and the Civil War. Families from miles around would come to camp meeting, setting up their own camp sites and staying for days of preaching and fellowship.
After the Civil War, many religious groups, including Methodists, held services in Science Hill Academy next to the present Munsey location. The need for a more permanent church home resulted in the construction of the East Market Street Methodist Church on the approximate site of Munsey’s parking lot in front of the Counseling Center.
By the turn of the century the church had grown to the point that a new sanctuary was needed. The church was in sound financial condition as reported in 1907, “The financial condition as regards the Pastor’s salary is good, the Pastor being promptly paid every Monday morning.” The site on the corner of Roan and Market was purchased for the new sanctuary. A frame house standing on the lot served as a parsonage until the women of the church assumed full responsibility for raising funds for a new parsonage.
The magnificent new sanctuary was circular, with beautiful stained glass windows and a copper dome ninety feet high. The congregation chose to name the church in memory of the Reverend William E. Munsey (1833-77). Born in Virginia, Munsey was the son and grandson of Methodist preachers. Raised in near poverty, he was largely self-taught, but became a brilliant pulpit preacher. The hard life of a frontier preacher forced Munsey to retire to Jonesborough, where he died at the age of 44.
Munsey Memorial was dedicated in 1908 with a membership of just over 300. The church grew rapidly, with the membership doubling in only 3 years. Young people were attracted to the modern gymnastic equipment and Munsey men liked to visit the church to take advantage of the new invention, the shower, after their Saturday morning haircuts.
By the 1940’s, Munsey needed more room for its growing congregation and expanding programs. World War II delayed construction of the education building, but it was finally realized in 1949, containing not only Sunday School rooms, a Fellowship Hall and other standard church features, but a swimming pool! And Munsey has been known as the church with the swimming pool ever since.
After 50 years of providing recreational opportunities to the community, Munsey was forced to close the pool in 2001 because of structural issues. In the fall of 2007, a renovation to the pool floor occurred to provide additional meeting space. We are able to have the majority of our adult ministries located on the first floor with two elevators for access to the space.
In the early 1950’s, the church began its preschool program. It is the oldest state accredited preschool program in the state of Tennessee. We currently have preschool and an accredited kindergarten program.
The church outgrew its sanctuary, so the congregation voted in 1953 to build a new one on the same site. This necessitated the demotion of the beloved round church in 1955. On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1956, Bishop Roy H. Short dedicated the new building with its neo-classical sanctuary, tall windows and distinctive steeple. He unveiled the cornerstone, which reads, “Jesus Christ himself is the chief cornerstone.” Stain glass windows tell the stories of Jesus, John Wesley and Munsey.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, Munsey added classrooms and parking spaces, but still lacked a much-needed chapel. The construction of a new Johnson City Public Library made the old Mayne Williams library building adjacent to the church available, and in 1986 it was lovingly converted into a chapel, incorporating several of the stained glass windows preserved from the old Munsey sanctuary. The same project created a new church library and additional office and classroom space.
In the early 1980’s, Munsey expanded its program to include a counseling ministry. The need for a Christian-based, professional counseling in the community was great and the church began to dream of expanding this important ministry. The center’s mission was “to provide a service that expresses the belief that relationships are opportunities for persons to grow in grace and intimacy with God, with themselves and with others, and which provides enrichment opportunities for the church and the community.” The building was renovated in 2007 for administrative offices and daily AA meetings. Counseling continues by the Pastor of Congregational Care in the church.
In 1989, a horrific fire caused the death of 15 residents of the John Sevier Apartments on the evening of December 24. Munsey became the hands and feet of God in a very real way as they cancelled the Christmas Eve services and became a triage center for those escaping the smoke and flames. After the fire, members of the church committed themselves to showing Christ’s love to the subsidized housing complex and the residents of downtown Johnson City, by beginning, along with Good Samaritan Ministries, a cooperative feeding program. 26 churches take turns providing lunch daily in the Melting Pot, on the church’s campus and Munsey members provide a Saturday morning breakfast each week. In 2004, a worship service was begun in the Melting Pot to reach the people who come to eat there, providing a safe and comfortable place to gather.
The church completed another expansion of facilities in January of 2002, moving into the Christian Life Center. This new building was constructed on the site of the old Science Hill High School and Johnson City Public Library (that was built in 1985). The Christian Life Center provides space for worship, fellowship, meals for large groups and concerts; in addition to recreational space, an exercise room, walking track and a large meeting room. Bishop Ray W. Chamberlain, Jr., presiding leader of the Holston Conference consecrated the building in March 2002.
The sacrifices of each generation are simply a part of our heritage. Munsey has always supported our general church programs and the local, home and foreign missions. Munsey continues to seek new paths for ministry and mission, not only in Johnson City, but also throughout the world.