It is important for each member of this congregation to be knowledgeable about the history of this church. We choose to share with you what for some will be a reminder of our heritage, for younger persons and newcomers, it will be a good lesson in the history of this congregation. Most of this information has been taken from Horace Jewell, History of Methodism in Arkansas (1892); James A. Anderson, Centennial History of Arkansas Methodist (1935); and Walter N. Vernon, Methodism in Arkansas, 1816-1976; and Nancy Britton, Two Centuries of Methodism in Arkansas, 1800-2000. (2002).
Research indicates William Patterson was the first Methodist to set foot on Arkansas soil in 1800. Patterson, a local preacher from Kentucky, settled at Little Prairie, near what is now Helena between 1800 and 1804. “It is difficult to imagine a Methodist preacher not holding services occasionally for his pioneer neighbors, but no record has been found that Patterson was ever an official member of a conference”. In 1818 William Harrison Bailey moved his family from Nelson County, Kentucky, to the area where Helena now stands, settling among a colony of Kentuckians already there. Bailey began holding prayer meeting for his neighbors and soon organized a Methodist Society among them.
The town of Helena came into existence about the year 1820, and the records of the church show that Benjamin Burrows was preaching in Helena as early as 1822. By 1823 a society of Methodists was organized by local preachers, and it is probable that local preachers filled the pulpit until 1829. It was in 1829 that John Harris was appointed the first regular itinerant on the Helena Circuit. Historian Josiah Shinn called John Harris “the third Methodist preacher in Arkansas”.
It is believed that a house of worship was built around 1840. There were at least two church buildings in existence before the present site was chosen. One of these burned before the Civil War and the other was located on Cherry Street on the site of the present First National Bank Building.
The pastors from 1829 to 1848 were John Harris, J.T. Rives, J.L. Newman, Spencer Walters, William B. Mason, J. M. Steele, S. Freeman, R.R. Burts, C. H. Edwards, W.P. Ratcliffe, G.W.Cottingham and W. P. Ratcliffe. The presiding elders during that period were Uriel Haw, Jesse Green, Andrew D. Smith, M. Wells, Charles J. Ransey, C.J. Karney, J.C. Parker, W.P. Ratcliffe, B. W. Morris, J.F. Truslow, Fountain Brown, and J.M. Steele.
In 1848 Helena was made a station, and her pastors from that time until the Civil War were J. Cowle, H.A. Sugg, John J. Roberts, W. H. Gillespie, John H. Rice, William Gilliam, R. Hammett and J.J. Roberts. The church organization was suspended during the Civil War and there is nothing on the records except “war”, “war”, “war”. The presiding elders during the period immediately preceding the Civil War were J. M. Steele, J. Cowle, S.W.D.Chase, Stephen Carlisle, and J. J. Roberts.
The pastors of the church since the war have been George Shaeffer, William Sheppard, W. F. Noe, J.L. Denton, Edgar Orgain, Josephus Anderson, E. A. Garrison, Julien C. Brown, F. A. Jeffett, E. M. Pipkin,
- F. Wilson, J.C. Hooks, M.B. Corrigan, Julien C. Grown, H.R. Singleton, W.B. Ricks, H.G Henderson, F.A. Jeffett, T.Y. Ramsey, J.D. Hammonds, C.M. Reves, J.B. Evans, F.E. Singleton, L.L. Cowen, W.C. Watson, P.Q. Rorie, H.K. Morehead, C.W. Lester, and J.W. Crichlow.
A building on the present sire, constructed between 1880 and 1885, was partially destroyed by fire in 1913. The present sanctuary was constructed in 1914 and remodeled in 1961. The Chapel-Education Building was built in 1959 and a Memorial Garden was added to complete the present facilities. The sanctuary underwent a refurbishing in 1995. The present parsonage at 201 Ridgemont was built in 1970. The previous parsonage was on College Avenue.
Perhaps those who contributed most to Helena Methodism’s early growth was the earliest Board of Stewards of which here is the record. It is as follows: John S. Horner, James M. Hanks, H. C. Rightor, S. H. Horner, R. C. Moore, Ezra Sawyer, M. L. Burnett, George B. Kopps, G. B. Warren, and Alonzo Wooten. Many of the descendants of these men still live in Helena.
The first Methodist Church building in Helena was built in 1845. Judge James M. Hanks though only twenty five years of age, gave $500 to the building of the First Methodist Church in Helena, served for more than fifty years on the Board of Stewards, and was Chairman of the Board for more than twenty-five years. He was also the first superintendent of the Sunday School.
An interesting historical fact is that between 1865 and 1935 only three men served as chairmen of the Board of Stewards: Judge James Milander Hanks, Col R. C. Moore, and Mr. H. G. Stephens. Judge Hanks also served in the United States Congress.
The importance of the church is noted by the fact that the Helena Methodist Church hosted the sessions of the Annual Conference on nine occasions, the last being in 1930.
Of the women of the early history of Helena Methodism, Mrs. S. E. Lanier and Mrs. W. E. Burnett were perhaps most prominent. Mrs. Lanier joined the church in 1852 and Mrs. Burnett became a member in 1857. Both were active leaders among the women of the church before the Civil War and for many years after. Mrs. Lanier passed away in 1930 and Mrs. Burnett in the spring of 1931.
The congregation celebrated its 175th Anniversary in April of 1993. The anniversary was highlighted by a communion service led by Bishop Kenneth W. Hicks. The chalice used in the service was first used in 1895 and is a regular part of the communion observance in the church. The chalice was made by Gorham Manufacturing Co. of Providence, R.I. and is a set of 2 chalices and ewer all of sterling silver.
The Cornerstone on the building indicates that we were Methodist Episcopal Church South, after succession of the Southern States due to the Civil War (1860’s) we later united with the United Brethren Church and became United Methodist.
Since the 1950’s the following pastors have served the Helena Church: E.B. Willliams 1954, Ira Bridenthal 1955-56, Alf Eason 1957-62, David Conyers 1963-64, William A. Stewart 1965-66, A. G. Ames,1967-69, Jim Beal 1970-74, James M. Meadors, Jr 1974-77., N. Wayne Clark 1977-80, Larry Dodgen 1980-84, Joe Linam 1984-1986, Frank Clemmons 1986-89, Gerald Rainwater 1989-91, Wayne C. Jarvis 1991-2000, Rockey E. Starnes 2000-05, Carolyn Doering 2005-10, Mark B. Massey 2010-13, and Walter Mike Wilkie, Sr. Pastor and Rev. Melissa Maskell, Associate Pastor.
In June 2013 we became known as the East Phillips County Parish, combined with Elaine United Methodist Church, and West Helena United Methodist Church. Rev. Mike Wilkie was the Senior Pastor and Rev. Melissa Maskell was the Associate Pastor. The Parish ended July 1, 2015, and Rev. Mike Wilkie was appointed the Senior Pastor of Helena FUMC.
Susan Gladin, the daughter of Ivey and Morvene Gladin, became a member of the North Arkansas Conference when she was ordained Deacon in 1979.
Some of the early facts above are sketchy but they do reflect the long and steadfast loyalty of Methodist people in Helena. We can be justly proud of this heritage as we live and serve Christ through the First United Methodist Church of Helena.