|Following the precept of John Wesley to take
the gospel to people everywhere, the Methodist Foreign Missionary
Society sent a mission to the Indians of the Pacific Northwest
The next year the Reverend Jason Lee, Jason Lee's nephew
Daniel Lee and teacher Cyrus Shepard traveled overland to
Fort Vancouver. At the urging of Hudson Bay Factor Doctor
John McLoughlin, they selected a headquarters site in the
Willamette Valley about ten miles north of the present city
of Salem. Today this site is preserved as Willamette Mission
Regular church services began at the Mission in 1835, but
it was not until 1841, when headquarters were moved to the
Salem location, that the Methodist Episcopal Church of Salem
was formally organized. Jason Lee was one of thirteen charter
members and David Leslie became the first pastor.
The Church met for services in a room of the Oregon Institute.
Coincidentally, the Mission families subscribed privately
to establish the Oregon Institute (now Willamette University)
to provide education for their children. The continuing vitality
of these twin institutions, First Church and Willamette University,
attest to the vision and faith of these pioneer missionaries.
The Mission served twelve stations in the Oregon Territory
(at that time, all of the Pacific Northwest) until 1844 when
much of the program was discontinued. However, most of the
missionaries remained in Oregon. They were influential in
the formation of the provisional government (1843 to 1848)
which sought United States jurisdiction for the Pacific Northwest
prior to the boundary settlement with Great Britain. Methodism
was a stabilizing force throughout the territorial period.
In 1852 the congregation of First Methodist Episcopal Church
had a sufficient number of members to erect a modest building
at the southeast corner of Church and State Streets. The service
of dedication was celebrated on January 23, 1853. By 1870
both the congregation and the larger Sunday School had outgrown
the small frame building. With the Bishop's support, the congregation
undertook the construction of the present sanctuary building.
In spite of a national depression and other severe difficulties,
the church with the tall white steeple was completed in 1878.
Now both a Methodist landmark and an enrollee on the National
Register of Historic Places, First United Methodist Church
is cherished for its pioneer heritage.
Harmonious additions to the building were made in 1935 and
1967. In 1984 the original spire was replaced. The spire stands
185 feet above street level and is a Salem landmark. In 1953
the sanctuary was remodeled with the addition of the Findley
Memorial Aeolian Skinner organ, a chancel rose window, new
altar, pulpit, and pews. Interior renovations occurred in
1981 and 1988. The organ was completed with its full rank
of pipes in 2000.
In 1992 the Elks building adjacent to First Church was purchased
and renamed MICAH (Methodist Inner-city Community Activities
House.) This former fraternal lodge now houses the Youth Center,
the United Methodist Archives for the Oregon-Idaho Conference,
an area for informal worship services, and several community
Over the years First United Methodist Church helped establish
four other Methodist churches in Salem and in 1998 became
the location of the Northwest House of Theological Studies.
As a downtown church, the congregation has joined with other
denominations in community service, worship, and study. Most
important, it is the spiritual home of a church family that
ministers to its membership and community in a dynamic tradition.
Compiled by Harriet Schulbach and Jean Hand, First United
Photographs provided by Harriet Schulbach and Jean Hand,
First United Methodist Church.