Centenary Methodist marks 120 years

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Centenary United Methodist Church will celebrate its 120th anniversary on Sunday, October 22 that has been designated as Homecoming/Laity Sunday. The church members believe “We exist: To Love God. Love people. Make Disciples as our purpose/mission. Our mission grew from our rich heritage dating back to the birth of the community we call home, Shelbyville and Shelby County, KY. Methodists were among the first settlers of Shelby County.”


Invitations have been extended to all who have or had a connection to Centenary. There will be one worship service at 10:45 a.m. at the church located at 429 Main (corner of Fifth and Main) where the doors have been restored and painted red. Sunday School starts at 9:30 a.m. A lunch will be served in the Fellowship Hall after the worship hour featuring comments by a member who has attended Centenary about 90 years: Katherine Cleveland. As a new member, Nick Headley will share how Centenary has become a church family to him, his wife and children. Melissa Goodlett will sing a solo marking the decades of those who have sung praises on that corner.



There were no roads, nor gravel lanes, no convenient means of transportation. Despite that, Methodist families were meeting in their homes and starting to organize as congregations. The Shelby Circuit was formed and pastors were being assigned to preach in the county by 1796.



Methodist families settling north of Shelbyville built in 1804 the first brick Methodist Church – not only in the county but in the state; it was also the second brick structure for any denomination built in KY. Some residents with membership in the Brick Chapel organized as a society in Shelbyville as early as 1809; meeting in a log cabin described as near the “Public Square”. When in 1814 those Methodists built their first church in Shelbyville, it was the first structure of any religious sect in the town. “The Shelbyville Meeting House” was probably so named because the Methodists allowed the other Protestants in town, the Baptists and Presbyterians, to hold their worship services there, too. The brick church was approximately located on what is now 411 and 419 Washington Street.



Whena larger structure was necessary the old “Meeting House” was sold for $500 to the Rev. John Tevis, a former pastor and co-educator with his wife, Julia Ann Hieronymus Tevis of Science Hill School. It was razed in 1859 and the Tevises used the brick in building the north wing of Science Hill School  (today part of the Wakefield-Scearce Galleries). In 1856 the Methodists purchased a lot (which is the present church site) for $2,120 from the Tevis family. The church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, was completed and dedicated on October 4, 1857.  As part of the dedication, a collection taken to pay toward the indebtedness, surprised everyone when it learned members and visitors had given $3,818 – more than enough to retire the full debt. In 1894, less than 40 years later, the church membership had more than doubled to about 250. Rather than move, the Methodists voted to raze the building (then valued at $10,000) and began in January 1897 to construct a more modern facility on the same site.



By the time the cornerstone was laid June 4, 1897, the congregation had decided to adopt the name  “Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church South” to commemorate the first century  of the Shelby Circuit (1796-1896).  At a cost of $15,000, the structure was completed and dedicated December 12, 1897. Approximately 65 years later, membership had grown to 504, necessitating an educational annex which was built and completed in 1961. In 1977, Centenary invested $80,000 to completely restore their main structure and sanctuary.  Approximately 3:30 a.m., on December 28, 1978, a break-in to the church escalated to arson and over a five-hour span, despite valiant efforts by firemen, alerted members were left helplessly watching their beloved church burn to destruction. Miraculously, the brick walls were left as a shell of the once beautiful structure. Extensive smoke damage was all that the educational annex suffered. Prayerfully members vowed to rebuild within those smoldering walls.


1982 – present

Rebuilding Centenary became a cause for the entire community. Not only did other Methodist churches in the county and state join in the effort, donations came from other denominations, civic organizations, county and city government. Centenary’s body of believers never missed a Sunday of worshipping together - meeting in the Circuit Court Room of the Courthouse and the old West Middle School (now the Board of Education) on West Main while the Presbyterians hosted our Wednesday fellowship services. No wonder so many visitors joined the Methodists to consecrate Centenary’s new home on October 24, 1982 when as estimated 600 people filled the sanctuary. The renovated church building was dedicated on December 29, 1985, following the note burning ceremony - a fire the congregation could appreciate since the total retired investment was over $1.5 million. Today Centenary continues to be a foundation in the downtown, fulfilling the vision God has given its members: “To be changed by Christ, to love and serve in the streets of Shelbyville and beyond.”   


Submitted by Bonnie Burks Gray and Duanne B. Puckett, members of Centenary History Committee