The Full History
of the First United Methodist Church of Farmington
For those of us who cherish Americana and early Farmington history, the story of this church offers an interesting view back into the years as it has played an important part, not only in the spiritual life of its inhabitants, but in their civic and cultural lives as well.
In 1829, a class was officially formed in connection with the Methodist Episcopal Church of Farmington, the class had 16 members. The first preachers were circuit riders in the early tradition of Methodism. The congregation first met in homes and later in local businesses. In 1840, the congregation broke ground on its first building on the corner of Warner and Shiawassee. The new church building was completed and dedicated in 1844, at a cost of $300. In 1878, the original frame building was enlarged to accommodate the growing congregation. At the time, it was the largest place of worship in Farmington.
On February 7, 1920, a disastrous fire completely destroyed the church building. In 1921, under the inspired guidance of Pastor Sidney D. Eva, ground was broken on our present site. The new building was dedicated on March 19, 1922. The total cost was $85,000. Our beautiful stained glass windows are an outstanding feature, inspiring many since that time.
The center window in our sanctuary was donated by Fred M. Warner, a longtime church member and Governor of Michigan from 1905-1911. The center window depicts four standing figures, painted in 1922 by a French artist, these four men represent the pioneer phases of Christianity. The men are (from left to right):
John Wesley (1707-1791) – pioneer of evangelical Christianity and founder of the Methodist denomination.
John Wycliff (1330-1384) – pioneer in the translating and teaching of the Bible in English and other common languages.
St. Paul – pioneer in early Christian missions recorded in the book of Acts.
John the Baptist – pioneer of Christianity recorded in the Gospels.
We maintain a display case in the upper gallery with exhibits that focus on the history of our church…PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE.
Our church has always been a vital part of the Farmington community, serving as a Community Hall for various activities and events. The former auditorium was the focal point of civic life in Farmington during the twenties, thirties and forties because it was the only large meeting place in Farmington. Graduation exercises, basketball games, pageants, plays, concerts and School Board meetings were all held here. In those days, the sanctuary ended at our current cross aisle. The rear portion of the building housed an auditorium, complete with stage, balcony and a gymnasium floor. It was separated from the sanctuary by high folding doors which were opened and chairs were placed to accommodate overflow crowds. The balcony to the auditorium served as the Sunday School. Downstairs, next to the stage, movable room dividers made several classrooms. Every Saturday night movies were shown from a lead-lined projection booth using a carbon arc lamp projector. When there was an acute school classroom shortage, several classes from the Junior High met in this church. During World War II, the church structure was designated as an official bomb shelter. The Christian Science fellowship of Farmington met in this building during its organizational phase. At one time, a food and clothing closet was maintained for needy families as identified by social agencies.
The pastorate of Russell W. Sursaw (1952-1958) encompassed a period of very rapid growth, necessitating a new educational building. In addition, a new parsonage was built. From July 1958 to June 1966, during the pastorate of Richard T. Markham (years of service), there was continued growth and it became necessary to expand the sanctuary. The floor of the auditorium was built up to match the slope of the main seating area and the additional pews provided capacity for 160 more people. The stage became the choir robing room; however, the south end of the auditorium and the balcony were not included in that remodeling. Rev. Markham envisioned that space becoming a beautiful chapel/parlor. Although he died before this dream could be realized, the Richard T. Markham Room was completed and dedicated to his memory on April 4, 1971.
In the 1970’s, office space for a branch of the Social Security Administration was provided until the new office was opened. Also, for several years, the Oakland County Public Health Department used the church facilities for immunization programs, the semi-monthly Well Baby Clinic and other special health projects. A number of community organizations such as Scouts, Senior Citizens, Weight Watchers, TOPS, Alcoholics Anonymous have based their activities here. We have held our Pie and Ice Cream Social since 1964, in conjunction with the Farmington Founder’s Festival. In the late 1990’s, under the leadership of Rev. Wayne Large (1995-2001), plans were developed, a capital campaign was conducted and ground was broken for a $2 million renovation and addition to our beautiful building. The project was finished in 2002 under the leadership of the new pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeffrey R. Maxwell (2001-2010).
In 2007, our building was awarded a Michigan Historical Marker and it was dedicated on November 11, 2007. The original building on Grand River Avenue (dedicated in 1922) was designed by the father/daughter architect team, Wells and Emily Butterfield, who specialized in church designs. Emily Butterfield is famous for being the first woman licensed as an architect in the State of Michigan. As partial payment for their work, they received the land where the original church had been. They each built a home on the property, moved to Farmington and became active members in our church. Former Michigan Governor Fred M. Warner and his wife, Martha, were also long-time members of our church and they donated the stained glass windows for the chancel area. We are very proud of our beautiful building, the part it has played and its contributions today to the history of Farmington. Today, we are pleased to have Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Novi Choralaires, and an exercise program functioning in our church. We also have many opportunities within our Church for spiritual growth and Christian fellowship including several Bible study groups, choirs for different age groups, Disciple Puppet Ministry, Logos Youth program, Guiding Force Youth groups, the Outer Circle (20’s and 30’s group), United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, Fun and Fellowship activities, and many Outreach programs.
On July 1, 2013, the Rev. Marshall G. Dunlap (2013-2016), and his wife Rev. Susan DeFoe Dunlap (retired), was appointed to serve as pastor. Rev. Marshall often said, “The best way for us to show our pride and inspiration by the past, is to reach out with love and hope to those who might be part of our future! Building on the work of Pastor Bob Brenner (2010-2013) and all who have served here since 1829, we continue to preach and teach and study and grow, confident that with God’s help, our future will be even brighter than our past!” Rev. Marshall served us until a severe health challenged prohibited him from continuing as our pastor. On February 1, 2016, the Rev. Neil Davis, Jr. (Feb 2016-Jun 2016) was appointed to serve as our interim pastor until a permanent pastor could be found. Under Rev. Davis’ leadership, the congregation was able to begin the process of healing needed after Rev. Dunlap’s sudden departure. On July 1, 2016, the Rev. Dr. Anthony Hood was appointed as our new pastor.