By Ann Allen
Methodism came to Akron in 1836, carried in the hearts and minds of a band of pioneers who left their homes in Medina County, Ohio, in search of a new life in the west. They were led by Dr. Joseph Sippy, a Methodist exhorter, who had prospected in the area that would become Akron. When they came to a place where two Indian trails crossed, he called, “This is the place!” and everyone knelt in prayer, giving thanks that the 47-member colony’s journey had been a safe one.
“This is the New Ark,” Dr. Sippy proclaimed. And so it was the town that became Akron was platted as Newark, although it also was known as Wesley post office in honor of John Wesley, founder of the denomination to which most of the settlers belonged. Methodist services began almost immediately. Circuit riders filled the pulpit for many years.
By 1855, when the town’s name officially was changed to Akron, the first of the three churches that have served Akron Methodists was already 11 years old. That first building, crude and barely more than a log cabin, stood on the site of the present building. Its bell announced church services, weddings and funerals. When it was replaced by a larger edifice in 1862, the trusty old bell was moved to the new belfry where it continued to notify people of current events, including the end of the Civil War and the death of President Abraham Lincoln.
The present brick structure was built in 1903, but it wasn’t until 1910 that Akron became a station. Prior to that, the church shared a minister with Gilead, Disko, Pleasant Hill and Omega.
The church continues to serve the community in many ways, although instant communication long ago relegated the bell to Sunday-only use. The building was remodeled in the late 1970s with the addition of new restrooms and again in the 1980s when the Sunday School classrooms, pastor’s office and church kitchen and social room were added.
During the 1990s, the church acquired a number of adjacent buildings, including the historic Hotel Akron, the former Madrid theater and several abandoned store buildings. All were leveled and the area, which came to be known as “The Village Green”, was converted to a landscaped parking area. A gazebo adds charm as well as directing traffic.
Over the years, the church’s outreach has continued to stretch–first with the addition of a nursery school and then through Community of Shalom. The latter, while not a Methodist project, has been spearheaded by the church as a way of welcoming Hispanic newcomers into the Akron community. Catholic Mass is conducted each Saturday evening in Spanish. On occasion a social hour is held in the church Fellowship Hall, with a carry-in meal being enjoyed by all.
With its soaring stained glass windows and its active ministries, the Akron United Methodist Church continues to thrive on the spot where the early settlers knelt to give thanks.