In 1836, Slocum Bunker and his brother Samuel were hired by the Barry Seat Developers to set up a saw mill and clear the land that was to become Hastings. The saw mill was located on Fall Creek where the True Value parking lot is today. He built a home for his family and soon other workers brought their families. A school and church were destined to soon follow.
The first Methodist preaching service in Hastings was held in the home of Mr. Bunker in the fall of 1839, by Rev. Wm. Daubney, who came from Gull Prairie, Kalamazoo, Co. In July 1840, Rev. Lorenzo Mudge, and wife; Polly Ingram; Mrs. Daniel McClennen; Mr. Hall; Mr. Bush; and Mr. Ketchum.
In the fall of 1841, the first Pastor, Rev. Daniel Bush was assigned by the Michigan Conference. The young minister brought his family to the village, hauling his household goods from Grand Rapids by ox team. Failing to find a house, they were given an upper chamber, reached by ladder, in the new residence of Alexander McArthur, and there was established the first Methodist parsonage. He received $80 a year and his area was most of Barry, Calhoun, and part of Kalamazoo counties, which he covered on horseback.
Services were held in homes and the school until a small log church was built and in 1852 when a larger school was built, the old building was purchased for $150. This building was just east of our present library. It was used for seven years. In 1859, Rev. Jeremy Boynton was appointed pastor. He urged that steps be moved around the corner and the new church built on the lot. Volunteers cut trees and hauled them to the mill. Stones for the wall were donated and hauled to the site. It was a big project for the time. On May 30, 1860 the corner stone was laid with a great ceremony and the church was dedicated September 23, 1860. Over the next 50 years remodeling and additions were made to serve the growing community. The transcept was added in 1875, and the lecture room in 1892. Pledges to cover the expense were paid quite promptly. The women’s organization gladly assumed their share in raising funds.
In 1898 a new building fund was started with a $5000 gift from the will of Daniel Striker who had served as Sec. of State, president of the National Bank, and was a devoted Methodist.
The town became a city in 1910. Membership in the church had increased so that it became imperative that a new and more modern building must be erected to meet their needs. Under the leadership of Rev. John W. Sheehan, the official board bought the lot at the corner of Green and Church streets for $1800. The structure was built for $42,000 and ready for dedication September 3, 1911. Bishop Quayle was present for this dedication and under his direction, the total unpaid balance was pledged in one-half hour.
From history printed in the Bulletin on that day – “The corner stone was laid November 10, 1910. Citizens of Hastings without regard to creed have shown deep interest in the building and have been liberal in their aid. It has been built with a view to the needs of the city as well as the church. The auditorium seats 600 and by opening the folding doors to adjacent rooms and the balconies, 1000 can be easily seated.” No other building in the city had as large a seating capacity and a large dining room and kitchen. It was used often by the community for conventions, political rallies, and graduation exercises until the new High School was built in 1918. The old building was sold to the Odd Fellows Lodge, and now is owned by the Democratic Party and called The Thomas Jefferson Hall.
Beautiful stained glass picture windows were given in 1948 as memorials to members of their families by M.L. Cook, William Hall, John Ketcham, and Morris Burton.
In 1949, during the pastorate of Rev. Leon Manning, the Sanctuary was remodeled. The chancel was divided with a center aisle, the organ was moved to the side and the piped enclosed.
As the Sunday School grew, more room was needed. The two houses to the west were purchased and razed and in 1960 during the pastorate of Dr. Wm. Helriegel, an Educational unit was built. Again the members raised the necessary funds to build. It was dedicated May 7. 1961 with a beautiful pageant, “The Light Shines On.” This was the 50th anniversary of worship in the present building and 120 years since the church was organized. The pageant was written by Mrs. Don (Edith) Smith who had searched the records of the church and accounts in the Banner. Scenes were depicted from the earliest times when Rev. Bush traveled by horseback over the Indian trails with Bible tracts, traveling from Station to Station or meeting men working in the woods and fields; down through the many changes and interesting events like Sunday School picnics when most traveled by train to Thornapple Lake. Organizations of the Women’s Missionary groups, and Ladies Aid. The pageant was directed by Kate Smith and Frank Huntley was the narrator.
The first parsonage of course, was the upper room of the McArthur home. In 1842, Rev. Bush built a small log house for his family, then the next year the church had a house built that was later moved to the next lot for the new church. In 1913, the house on the corner of Church and Walnut was purchased for a parsonage. It not only housed the minister’s families, but often the extra rooms were rented to teachers. In 1968, a new parsonage was purchased at the corner of W. State Road and Glenwood Dr. In 1980 that home was sold and the present parsonage purchased at 935 N. Taffee Dr.
If one were to call the roll of members in former years, it would conjure up hallowed memories. The list might include: Andrews, Allen, Bassett, Bronson, Bauer, Baird, Bottom, Burch, Black, Carveth, Clark, Chase, Cook, Dawson, Doyle, Eaton, Frandsen, Grant, Groh, Hall, Hubbard, Heath, Jones, Johnson, Kerr,Keneston, Kniskern, Keller, Ketcham, Lampman, Lahr, Lombard, Merrick, Mixer, McElwain, Pennock, Pryor, Renkes, Russ, Reynolds, Spaulding, Schantz, Sisson, Safe, Smith, Watkins, Wheeler, Weissert, Whitcomb, and Zagelmeir, and of course many, many more over the years.
While every member has been important to the church and has left a foot-print in it’s history, some names are recognized because they were in local, state, and national government. Daniel Stgriker, Sec. of State; John Ketcham, Rep. in Congress; Kim Sigler, Governor; several were judges; Clement Smith, McPeak; Archie McDonald; Adelbert Cortright, Frank Huntley and Paul Siegel, prominent lawyers. In recent years our mayors were John Hewitt, Ivan Snyder, and Ken Howe. Mr. M.L. Cook, publisher of the Banner and his family were faithful supporters of the church throughout the years.
1986 brought a new challenge. The present building was 75 years old and in need of updating. May 11 was declared “Miracle Sunday” and over $150,000 was raised in cash and pledges. An elevator was installed, a barrier-free entrances, a new heating system, rewiring, and repairs on the building were completed. These additions together with recent memorial gifts of a new sound system, and new carillion chimes were dedicated April 26, 1987.
On Sunday, November 6, 2016, a 175th Anniversary celebration will be held at Hastings First United Methodist Church. This celebration is to honor and recognize this historic time in the life of our church. 175 years to the day when Pastor Daniel Bush first conducted worship services in the hamlet of Hastings, Michigan.