Submitted by Rev. Bob Jones, Fairbanks First UMC
The missionary work of the superintendent and members of the Visitation-Evangelism team of the Alaska Missionary Conference over 67 years ago birthed the current incarnation of a United Methodist Church in Fairbanks, known as First United Methodist today.
The first worship service was held at Carpenter’s Hall on March 23, 1952. Reverend A. E. Purviance arrived shortly thereafter, in June of 1952. The first hymnals, Sunday School supplies, church envelopes, communion set and altar-ware were supplied through the generosity of churches in Ketchikan, Seward, Anchorage and Juneau. In September 1952, First Methodist Church, known as “America’s Northernmost Methodist Church”, was officially organized with 80 members, and just two years later reported a total of 320 members.
Being born of missions, First UMC of Fairbanks has never wandered far from its roots as a base of missions. From the early years to today, it has provided a family away from family and a home away from home for the many military families that find duty calling them to Alaska’s Interior. Records indicate that as far back as 1959, the Women’s Society of Christian Service at First Methodist was working with the USO in welcoming service members.
In 1964, the Fairbanks church responded generously to those places and people in Alaska that were reeling from the devastating Good Friday earthquake.
In 1967, First Methodist again found itself the recipient of conference support after a flood devastated the city and the church building. Over 25 laypersons and pastors from Anchorage, Nome and Chugiak journeyed to the “Northernmost Church” to help clean up and rebuild.
Just 10 years later, FUMC helped to birth a new congregation, underwriting the first year’s budget of a new church in North Pole, the New Hope United Methodist Church.
In addition, the education wing at FUMC, built in 1959, started providing more than Sunday School lessons when the classrooms became living space for various mission groups and scouting groups visiting Alaska’s Interior. To this day, the classrooms double as housing for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) during the summer, and as a safe space for homeless families during the school year.
The Bread Line, a local ministry that addresses the needs of the homeless throughout Fairbanks, started in the basement kitchen at FUMC but eventually outgrew that location. Now, they operate from a separate building and have expanded their ministry to include food service job training and community gardening.
FUMC remains a missionary base of operations. Today’s UMVIM teams work with the Fairbanks Rescue Mission each summer to construct a housing community for chronically homeless adults. Members from the current congregation have participated in missions as far away as Saipan, and as close as fixing meals in the church kitchen for homeless families spending the night.
Born of missions, Fairbanks First remains an active and vital outpost of United Methodist belief and service just south of the Arctic Circle.