Methodism officially came to Watertown in 1879, a year before Watertown was incorporated. Albon Chase was the first of many extraordinary pastors and leaders who have guided the spiritual lives of its citizens since then.
Our first church was built in 1880, a modest wooden structure located on East Kemp Avenue. By 1888, the church had 204 members and needed a larger building so a lot was purchased at our present site and a second church was erected. A modern parsonage was added at the site in the early 1900s.
By 1911, however, church records indicate talk of building an even larger church. This became a reality in 1914 when the old church was razed and our present church was built. The new church was dedicated on October 17, 1915. Our anniversary celebration was held to honor this accomplishment in 2015.
Since its beginning, our church has provided spiritual as well as community leadership. Education was always an important part of our ministry in Watertown. In the early 1920s, a weekday religious education program was started.
Children and youth in grades one to nine were dismissed to go to their respective churches on Thursday afternoons. Missionary work was also an important facet of life in our church. The Watertown Foreign Missionary Society, established in 1890, raised money with its Birthday Roll and the Women’s Home Missionary Society made quilts and provided hospitals and schools with supplies and education scholarships.
Beyond Watertown, another seminal event for the church as a whole took place in 1939 when the three different branches of the Methodist Church (the Methodist Protestant Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South) agreed to a Declaration of Union to form the Methodist Church. In 1968, the union of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church was completed, resulting in the formation of the United Methodist Church. As a result, our church’s name was re-confirmed as the First United Methodist Church while the former EUB church became the Ninth Avenue United Methodist Church. A major celebration was held in 1979 marking the Church’s centennial year of Methodism in Watertown.
The past decade has also been a fruitful time for our church. We have been instrumental in local mission work and community service including Meals on Wheels and a community pillow cleaning. In 2010, FirstChurch opened its doors on Tuesday mornings to serve a hot a nutritious breakfast to those in need. We began serving our community by providing food to those in need in 2011 with our PACH program. That same year our FirstChurch prayer team began. Since the turn of the century, FirstChurch has been involved in mission efforts in Haiti including mission trips, installing solar ovens and recently partnering with LaGonave Alive in their efforts to help young and old with schooling and medical needs. 2016 was a busy year for us at FirstChurch.
We saw a need for school supplies for the children of Watertown and took a step in faith to provide backpacks, school supplies, and snacks. That same year we began partnering with Feeding South Dakota to provide food for those in need in the Watertown community.
Members of our church saw families in need of diapers, so in 2019 FirstChurch began packaging and distributing diapers to families. When we look back over the years, it is obvious that “Faith of Our Fathers” is more than a popular hymn; it is the bedrock on which this church was built, from the hardy pioneers and early preachers who brought religion with them to a sparsely populated land, to the strong, visionary leaders who guided us safely through the boom periods of prosperity and growth as well as the valleys of war, depression, and natural disasters of blizzards, floods and drought. Equally strong, committed leaders plot our course today, a course based in faith, hope, and spiritual maturity.
Their bequest of a dedicated, vital ministry will be the ultimate legacy. This is the First United Methodist Church of Watertown, a church blessed with a strong past, a committed present, and a future bright with possibility.