United Methodist History

-Provided by Desert Southwest Annual Conference http://www.desertsw.org/history.html

In the Arizona Territory

Methodism began in Arizona as a mission outreach. The Methodist Episcopal Church sent missionaries, Horace S. Bishop and David Tuthill, from New York to California where they were assigned to preach in southern Arizona. Tuthill preached at Tubac in 1859. In 1860 the General Conference decided Arizona would be “treated as a foreign mission” and attended to from California. By 1869 Charles P. Cooke left his position as a Methodist Missionary in Chicago and established work with the Pima Indians. When the Methodists provided no funds, the Presbyterians took up the work, and the Cooke Christian Training School was the result.

Pioneer circuit riders faced open hostilities, fought the vice of the open saloons, slept in blankets on the ground in rain and snow, and walked or rode miles in the establishment of churches and the organization of Sunday Schools. “These pastor missionaries were frequently called to take their place along with other citizens of the community and, with guns in hand, stand guard through the night in protection of those whom they were to preach the gospel on the coming Sabbath.”

In the Prescott Valley

The Capitol of Arizona was move to Prescott in 1867. The Arizona Miner reported in its news accounts that Alexander Groves, a “quiet, unostentatious man, studious and diligent” arrived on Tuesday, December 13, 1870. The editor said that on the next day Mr. Groves called on him:

“and he informed us that he came to the Territory under the auspices of the Los Angles Conference, for the purpose and with the view of establishing churches and religious communities in this Territory. So far he has met with good encouragement. At Phoenix he met with the kindest treatment, and says the good people of that place are going to build a church and are anxious to have him, or some other minister, settle there. Mr. G. will go around among the people of Prescott and vicinity and, should he meet with the right kind of encouragement, will, we think, settle down among us and work for our salvation. We wish him success in the mission he has taken.”

The Pacific Methodist described Alexander Groves in this manner: “Rev. Alex Groves, when at Prescott, armed with his Bible and his pistol, at the risk of his life, traveled about the country soliciting subscriptions for church purposes.” By April 15, 1971, the Prescott newspaper reported that Mr. Groves had been successful in raising funds for the erection of a church there, “notwithstanding the tightness of the times.” The Marina Street Methodist Church was constructed shortly thereafter. Later, the Westside Methodist Church was built in 1876 near the Governor’s mansion.

In the Salt River Valley

The Methodist Episcopal Church South: Early settler held services under mesquite ramadas along the Salt River. The first clergymen to preach in the area was the Rev. Alexander Groves, who rode in on horseback. Early in 1871 he was followed by Rev. Franklin McKean of whom a historian said: “…immediately commenced the work of salvation…With outstanding courage, he attacked the lawless and evil-minded and, in fact, condemned all bad and improper conduct. And while he did not completely rout his foes, he made many of them feel fearful and apprehensive as to their future salvation.”

The Methodist Episcopal Church South first worshiped in an adobe schoolhouse on Center Street. Land was purchased as the southwest corner of Central Avenue and Monroe for $1.00 in 1875. A 28′ by 32′ adobe church was built by the members and was completed in 1876.

The Tucson Star wrote in 1885:

“Phoenix is having a series of revival meetings. It is said that over 50 people have been converted since the meeting commenced. Phoenix must have been a pretty tough place before the revival struck it. Fifty sinners in a place that size (3,000) is a pretty big ration. The Star congratulates the good people on their work and would advise them to move on to Prescott and tackle the legislature, for Satan is up there in battalions.”

A modern brick church was opened for Central Methodist Church on the same site in 1904. Later the congregation relocated, constructing a three story building at Central and Pierce and then relocated in 1950. It now ministers from its six-acre campus on Central Avenue between Coronado and Palm Lane.

The Methodist Episcopal Church: The Northern Methodist Episcopal Church was organized under a brush arbor and met whenever a “Northern Methodist” preacher was available. Early direction came from the Rev. George Adams, Superintendent of the Arizona Mission. There were eleven charter members of the congregation. Rev. Ivy Cox was named the first pastor but soon left to serve in the Territorial Legislature and was replaced by Rev. George F. Bovard, who later became President of the University of Southern California.

A 30′ by 50′ red brick building was erected at Second Avenue and Washington for $4,000. In 1894 that property was sold, and construction began on a new First Methodist Episcopal Church at Second Avenue and Monroe. The red brick sanctuary was completed in 1896 and served the congregation until the facilities were sold in 1951 and the church relocated to its present site at Central Avenue and Missouri, breaking ground in 1952. Construction of the present sanctuary commenced in 1957.

In Tucson

In 1879 the Rev. William Gill Mills gathered a little group of Methodist who held services in the Court House. Tucson was a wide-open town in 1879. An account in the Arizona Daily Star reports:

“Other churches were struggling for a firm foothold when the Rev. George H. Adams, superintendent of missions for the Methodist Episcopal Church in Arizona, delivered his first sermon in Tucson on October 12, 1879. Before his appearance, a traveling Episcopal minister came through town on a regular basis, a Presbyterian church had been built and sold, and a Congregationalist group had organized to provide religious education, but no lasting Protestant church had been established. Adams took his campaign to $5,000 to build a church right into the dance halls and casinos, which his congregation would later try to close down. He met his goal within 18 months and construction of the original First Methodist church on the northeast corner of North Stone Avenue and East Pennington Street began.”

The building was 30′ by 50′ with a spire rising to its eventual height of 75 feet. In 1929 First Methodist moved to its present site at fourth and Park across from the University of Arizona, erecting there a fine campus.

The Arizona Mission

The Rev. George Adams was named Missionary Superintendent of the Arizona Territory, arriving on September 5, 1879. On his first tour of the Territory he secured property for church buildings in Globe, Tucson, and Tombstone. Among his reminiscences at the Arizona Pioneer Historical Society were these, theat when he arrived in 1879:

” There were 33 Methodist, man, woman and child, in the whole territory…I built the church at Kingman, and at Winslow, the parsonage at Prescott; at Wilcox, Benson, Tombstone, Phoenix,, Pinal, Tempe, Globe and Yuma and the church here in Tucson. That was during my 12 years of administration. I reached Tombstone in 1879, and preached the first sermon in the back part of a saloon.

Bishop Charles Bowman convened the opening session establishing the Arizona Mission on July 3, 1881. The first appointments were Prescott, Phoenix, Globe, San Carlos reservation, Tucson, Tombstone, Pinal and Florence, Safford and Clifton, and Verde; and Tonto Basin was left “to be supplied.” By 1906 there was a church and minister in every town of size in the territory.

In 1920 when the Mission became part of the Southern California Conference it reported 34 charges with a membership of 4,436.

The Arizona District

In 1920 the Arizona Mission dissolved and became a district of the Southern California Conference. Ed Jervey, Conference historian, reported: “For some years the remoteness of the district to the rest of the Conference was felt. The District Superintendent reported in 1923 that the pastor who lives closest to the seat of the Conference lives 252 miles away, and one of our secretaries lives some 650 miles away.

In Southern Nevada

The history of United Methodism begins in Southern Nevada with the arrival of the Rev. Dr. John Bain, the colorful church developer who bought a lot in downtown Las Vegas for the Methodist Episcopal Church in June 18, 1905. First Church is older that the city itself.

In terms of age, the second oldest church in the Conference is Grace Community Church of Boulder City. This was a Federated church. It was jointly operated and maintained by Presbyterians and Methodist, until a recent affiliation with the Methodist church, in which the Methodist ministry continues. Grace Church was founded and has served since the inception of the community of Boulder City and it became prominently related with the Methodist Church in 1973. Its founding date does not appear in our historical records.

John Bain was a very colorful person with long white hair, who arrived in town the day the railroad company auctioned off lots, and for a ridiculous sum of about $50.00 he purchased the lot in downtown Las Vegas where First Church now stands. He met and organized in a tent that was also used as a saloon. There is a quotation from the district superintendent who served the district where Las Vegas was situated in the official minutes of the Nevada Mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Las Vegas:

” There is a new charge, organized since our last meeting, with J. W. Bain as pastor. While we have succeeded in organizing this work by the self-sacrificing and heroic work of Brother Bain, without the aid of missionary money, missionary society must come to our aid with a sufficient amount to money to go forward until our church can be prominently established. To not do this work would be to short-sighted and recreant to our trust. We will do it. In the future this place will have a population of 50,000. This is great county. We have entered it, we will stay. September 3, 1905.”

In Southern California

The southern and northern branches of the Methodist Church were reunited in 1939 and the Southern California-Arizona Annual Conference was born. Three of the largest churches in the new Conference were from Arizona: Tucson First, Phoenix Central and Phoenix First. As the state grew in population, two districts were created, Tucson and Phoenix.


For three quadrenniums there had been discussion of the possibility and advisability of creating another Episcopal Area in the Western Jurisdiction. The Jurisdiction Committee on Conference recommended this action for two quadrenniums. After discussions were held in each of the ten district of the Pacific and Southwest Annual Conference and Conference members at these meeting voted in the aggregate to support the creation of a new Area, the Jurisdictional Conference of 1984 meeting in Boise, Idaho, voted to establish the Phoenix Area of the United Methodist Church. Bishop Elias Galvan was appointed as resident Bishop.

The Conference includes all of the churches of Arizona, Southern Nevada and the Colorado River churches of Needles and Blythe in California. Today, the Conference has more than 130 churches and membership of more than 46,000…and more on the way.