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Utah’s little ‘church that refused to die’ celebrates 100 years of faith and fellowship

Salt Lake City’s Centenary United Methodist Church is more than a building to members who have spent decades worshipping and serving there.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Centenary United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City is celebrating its 100th anniversary being in its current chapel at 1740 S. 500 East. The church was photographed Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.

Centenary United Methodist Church is far more than a building to Lois Archuleta. It’s home.

In 1954, as an 18-year-old, newly arrived from Colorado to attend Westminster College, it’s where she met the pastor with whom she boarded. Later, it’s where she married and where she became choir director for a “long, long, long” time.

Now, her eyes are bright as she helps prepare for an open house in honor of the church’s 100th anniversary. Everything must be just right — the people who will attend aren’t merely her fellow congregants, after all. They’re family members.

Archuleta is just one of the countless people impacted by Centenary United Methodist Church throughout its rich history.

Built in 1921 to accommodate a growing number of Methodists in the area, the Salt Lake City church turned 100 years old Oct. 23. The public is invited to an open house Sunday, Oct. 24, from 2 to 6 p.m. at the church, 1740 S. 500 East.

“We think about Christianity as being [around] for thousands of years, so in that context, 100 years might not seem like a lot,” said the Rev. AJ Bush, who is the pastor for both Centenary and downtown Salt Lake City’s First United Methodist Church. “But I think if you put it in the perspective of the lifetimes of people, 100 years is really significant. And we just want to celebrate that.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Church members Lois Archuleta, left, and Karen Hendry look at a collection of memories as the Centenary United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City celebrates its 100th anniversary being in its current chapel at 1740 S. 500 East. The church was photographed Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.

A brief history of Centenary

According to information provided by the church, in 1892, the Rev. George E. Jayne bought the abandoned Congregation chapel near the southeast corner of what was then 400 East and 1100 South (now 1700 South). He subsequently dedicated it as Second Methodist Episcopal Church.

The congregation quickly outgrew that building, so, in 1896, a new church was erected adjacent to it on the northeast corner of 400 East and Galena, now Blaine Avenue. Later, in 1903, it was renamed Waterloo Methodist Episcopal Church.

Finally, in 1921, the congregation moved a block east and to the south side of Blaine Avenue, where the current church was built and named Centenary United Methodist Church.

The church’s name comes from the early 20th-century “Centenary” campaign, when several Methodist communities across the country raised funds to build churches at the same time.

Most recently, the church’s history has been impacted by COVID-19. Karen Hendry, a member who serves as the church’s de facto historian, said the pandemic has made their already small congregation — many of whom are seniors — shrink even further. (During the height of the pandemic, services were held virtually, then outside, she said, but with the weather changing, they’re indoors again on Sundays. Services are still being streamed from the sister church, First United Methodist Church.)

However, Hendry said, there’s a reason Centenary United Methodist Church is known as “the church that refused to die,” and their sense of community holds them together.

Another of its nicknames, “the banner church,” comes from the colorful handmade banners hung on the sanctuary walls.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Banners are on display as Centenary United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City is celebrating its 100th anniversary being in its current chapel at 1740 S. 500 East. The church was photographed Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.

Looking ahead

Centenary United Methodist Church might be celebrating its past, but it’s not stuck in it. As congregants look to the future, they see increased involvement in community service.

That’s not to say they haven’t been involved before — previous welfare projects have included work at the Crossroads Urban Center Thrift Store, the St. Vincent de Paul Charity Dining Room and the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

But right now, they’re particularly excited about hosting the second location for Art First Arte Primero, an after-school art program with a focus on Spanish immersion. Congregants had intended to start the program last year, but COVID-19 made it necessary to postpone it until last month.

For now, the church gets about 12 kids from nearby Hawthorne Elementary School every Monday through Thursday after school.

“Where our heart is,” Hendry said, “is to [give] some sort of community help.”

Bush added that there’s been discussion about the possibility of starting a community center or otherwise using the church space in a way that benefits others.

“We are always just trying,” she said, “to take the next most faithful step.”

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