First United Methodist Church of Hamilton has a long and robust history, including fires and service to neighbors during tragic floods and more normal times. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

Hamilton’s First Methodist Church celebrates 200 years: This is its story

“We’ve now worshipped at this location for 199 years,” said the church’s historian, John Haid. “The first year was in various public buildings. One was a big warehouse in Rossville, and the other was a school building on the east side, and our first pastor would preach in each of these on alternate Sundays.”

The church has a proud tradition of serving Hamilton people, including after the deadly 1913 flood, when it acted as an infirmary to serve the 10,000-plus city residents left homeless. Some 19 babies were born in the church at the time. It also served as a post-flood distribution center for food and clothing, overseen by the Red Cross.

Although 199 of the years have been at one addresses, “the first three churches burned down,” said the church pastor, the Rev. Mark D. Finfrock. “But they decided this one was not going to burn down (after the 1924 fire), so they made it out of concrete.”

The existing church’s sanctuary has noted acoustics. During the 1960s, those acoustics were “tuned” so that someone can speak from the altar and be heard from the back pews without use of microphones. Ministers wouldn’t use microphones today if not for people who are hard of hearing and need them the mics for listening devices.

“We have people who come here to be married, because of this venue,” Finfrock said. “We had the Butler Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir perform here in April.”

The church will host future concerts. On a typical Sunday, 80 people attend church there.

The church’s Casavant Freres organ, considered one of the best in southwest Ohio, was refurbished in 1969. The sanctuary itself was renovated this year in honor of the bicentennial, with areas sealed to keep out water, water damage repaired, and ceilings replastered and repainted.

Other notable attributes at the church are its front “Rose” stained-glass window, and the stained-glass windows that line the sanctuary’s sides.

It is a place that embraces the phrase, “200 Years Loving God, Loving Hamilton,” hosting homeless families for a week once per quarter through an interfaith hospitality network.

“We try to get these people back on their feet,” Finfrock said. “It’s a program to get them from where they are, which is homeless, back into a home, into a house, and to actually take them, and not leave them where they are. We make it a hand-up.”

Its community meals program, in collaboration with other churches, tries to do that, with finance classes possibly being offered this fall.

“We do 250 meals a week out of our basement, every Saturday,” Finfrock said.

The other five churches are Princeton Pike Church of God, Zion Lutheran Church, Jacksonburg United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church in Hamilton, and the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati.

Haid is the church’s historian partly because he has two sets of great-great grandparents who attended, starting in the the early 1860s and the 1870s. The Fitton family has even more seniority, having joined in 1844.

As one might guess from its name, the church was the first Methodist one in Hamilton, and it later planted Lindenwald Methodist Church.

A Hamilton native in his sixth year, Finfrock said the church’s 200th anniversary “is significant, but it’s got to be a beginning. We’re closing one era, and beginning another one.”

“Our outreach, we’re finding pretty vital to the community of Hamilton, and our congregation’s embraced that,” Finfrock said.

“We help people on a daily basis, and if a person will allow us, we will help them get in better circumstance. And we’ve done it.”

Some who have been helped now help uplift others, he said.

“They understand what Luke 4:18 means (calling for proclaiming good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom for prisoners, sight-recovery for the blind and setting the oppressed free).”

Those who eat the free meals “are served on china — this isn’t paper plates and plastic — it’s china, silverware, you get real ceramic cups here when you sit down at the meal. Everybody’s a child of God, deserves that dignity.”

A Steinway & Son was dragged out from the 1924 fire by Morris Taylor, a philanthropist who helped found Hueston Woods, and still is in use. The church has been home to various industrialists and business leaders through the decades.

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