Our Story

About Us

First United Methodist Church of Okeechobee is nearly 100 years old and yet remains a vibrant faith community today. In May, 1915, the church was organized by Rev. W.O. Troutman with seven members, and the first church building was erected the following year. In those early days people came together to give of their time and resources to establish a church that would become a source of comfort, strength and encouragement for individuals, families and the community. Those who have gone before us laid a foundation to build upon and today we seek to provide a still firmer foundation for the generation that will come after us. First United Methodist Church seeks to provide opportunities for expressing our faith as we worship, grow, and serve together. Christ calls us forward to live our faith out in the world. The best lies ahead, and we invite you to join us as we seek to impact our community and world for Christ.

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Our Story

The First United Methodist Church of Okeechobee was born almost 100 years ago in the back of Scharfschwerdt Bros. store on Park Street. The group first met with worshipers of other denominations and it was called the Union Church. Then, in May, 1915, the church had its separate beginning when a small group of seven persons organized a class with the help of Rev. William O. Troutman. The original members included Dr. and Mrs. Francis Thompson, owners of Okeechobee Drug Company; Lillian Thompson; George T. Rice, owner of the first newspaper, the Okeechobee Call; R.B.Walters; and Capt. Tom Bass, who was instrumental in beginning the large scale commercial catfishing industry on Lake Okeechobee.

The Okeechobee Company, a real estate branch of the Florida East Coast Railroad, laid out the townsite, and in l915, donated lots to various denominations. The Methodist Church was given three city lots on NW second street and second avenue, with the provision that the property was to be used for church purposes.

During the early part of 1916, the church hosted a tent revival meeting on its property and it was attended by everyone in the community, regardless of their church affiliation. By the time the revival was over, forty new members had been added and a small frame building had been completed. This building served as both church and parsonage for the small congregation.

By the end of 1917, the church was in a slump, partially due to the fact that there had been three pastors during the year, and part of the year was spent without leadership at all. The Rev. George T. Bennett arrived in December,1917, and found there was a debt of $117 on the church. By the time he left in December, 1919, the church had paid off its debts and had begun to grow.

Under the leadership of the next pastor, Rev. F.L. Crowson, a building committee was formed and plans were made for the construction of a new church. Rev. Crowson asked a friend of his to come and deliver a lecture. The Honorable William Jennings Bryan came to town and donated the proceeds of that lecture to the building fund – a grand total of $160. With the initial seed money, the fund grew quickly and soon construction was started on the two corner lots. Work was done only as funds were available. By the middle of 1922, the exterior was completed, but when they started to put up the rafters, they discovered that the brick walls were starting to fold in. Mr. F.W. Zander, a builder, and his family arrived in Okeechobee during that time, and the church’s newest member quickly took over and averted disaster. Over the next two years, Mr. Zander helped with the construction and by the end of 1924 the building was completed and free of debt. Because of an increase in attendance in Sunday School, an addition was added at the northwest corner of the church and an annex building was added on the north to furnish space for classes and a kitchen. The laying of the cornerstone and dedication service took place in February, 1926.

During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the eight pastors who served the church were also responsible for starting churches around the lake. At this time the Okeechobee congregation had about 200 members and conducted missions at Sherman and Brighton. Music was a vital part of the worship services in the home church and the mission churches. A small pump organ was used at the missions and a pipe organ was purchased for the church in 1944.

The 1950’s and 1960’s were years of growth for the community and for the church. Dairies and support services moved into the community from south Florida bringing many new families looking for a church home. This created a need for more Sunday School space for children and youth. The first wing of the education building was built in 1958 and the second in 1963. During this time, missions were started in Ft. Drum, Indiantown, and McArthur Dairy on 70 east. The membership grew from 251 in 1957 to 501 in 1969, and a new parsonage was completed. New programs were started for families, children, youth and adults.

In 1979, with membership at 514 and the winter visitor attendance increasing, a second service was started, a new wing was added to the education building, a new fellowship hall was built, and the sanctuary was remodeled. New programs included weekly lay visitation, care ministry, intergenerational programs, children’s choirs, a church library, and planning for future growth. An administrative assistant was added to the staff and plans were made for a new sanctuary.

The church had a set-back when the pastor died in February, 1986, in the midst of planning a building program. Changes within the church and the community led to a loss of members to new church starts during the remainder of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

In 2001 and 2002, the church began to turn around with the help of the district and conference. Igniting Ministries training and a Futuring Conference led by Herb Miller helped the church look to the future and become more welcoming, inviting, and caring. A youth director was hired to begin a ministry with youth, small groups were established, a Care Team was organized, and leadership development, community outreach, and faithful stewardship became priorities. In 2003, a Celebrate Jesus week gave the church an opportunity to reach out into the community. In 2005, a contemporary service was added along with new staff positions for power point, sound, and Christian Education. A complete renovation of the sanctuary and fellowship hall

took place in 2007 as a result of a sizeable bequest. A playground was added for the children, and the education buildings were repaired and refurbished. Through the continuing generosity of donors, a new storage facility has been built, the parsonage has been remodeled, the church grounds have been landscaped and other facilities have been improved to make them more attractive and functional.

In the past few years, a refocusing process was used to help us explore our past, present and future. Through the plans that were developed, First United Methodist Church has continued to press toward the goal of living lives that become the gospel. An atmosphere of warmth and acceptance welcomes visitors and attendees into God’s house of worship for both traditional and contemporary services. The music ministry enhances worship through the adult choir, children’s choir, praise team, soloists, and handbell choir. Worshipers are encouraged to grow in their faith through the ministries provided for children, youth and adults, and they are encouraged to find paths of service in our church, community, and world.

(historical information was gathered from church records and newspaper articles written by Twila Valentine)