The history of Aldersgate begins well before the first cornerstone was laid. A group of summer Methodist seminary students, directed by Dr. Robert W. Pinnell, Des Moines District Superintendent, conducted a survey and found a sufficient number of people interested to warrant the establishment of a Methodist Church in Urbandale.
Land was purchased for $30,000 on October 21, 1959 while plots big enough for a church were still available.
Grace United Methodist church and its pastor, Dr. Newton Moats, agreed to furnish leadership for the church start. Rev. Clifford B. Lott was appointed as pastor of the church, along with his responsibilities as Associate Pastor at Grace.
On March 6, 1960 eighteen persons met a Olmsted Elementary School. They became to steering committee, and the Sunday following, March 13, the first worship service was held in the same building with 77 persons present. May, 1,1960 the congregation chose “Aldersgate” for its name. The name was suggested by Mrs. James Watson, a member of Grace. The name comes from the life experience of John Wesley, founder of the first Methodist Societies. At a meeting on Aldersgate St. in London, Wesley reported, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” It was a prayer of the congregation that the new church might serve as a meeting place where people would experience the warmth of God’s love.
Charter membership closed on May 29,1960 with 57 members.
A house chapel at 3315 Monroe Court was purchased from St. Stephens Lutheran Church and the first service was held there on October 2, 1960. There were 102 people present at the first chapel service.
Rev. Merle D. Hill was appointed pastor in June of 1961. On July 1, 1961, money from the South Iowa Conference Methodist Builders‘ Call was used by Aldersgate to purchased the land for the church site from the Permanent Fund, at the cost of $30,000 plus the interest which had accrued.
When the fall months came, the Aldersgate Official Board decided to try having two worship services each Sunday, a plan that is still in effect today.
The First Decade, 1960–1969
The construction of the first portion of our building started on August 27, 1961. It included a sanctuary, offices, fellowship hall and 6 classrooms. The sanctuary has since become our library and Wesley Room.
It took twelve attempts to create and fire the cornerstone. Eleven cracked and the twelfth, though imperfect, was utilized. It may be seen at the northwest corner of the original building. Mr. Charles Bridgman, chair of the building committee stated at the cornerstone ceremony , “It is fitting and proper that this be used even though it has an imperfection. It should serve to forever call our attention that we are not perfect and that we need to be humble and forever conscious of the fact that even that which is imperfect can serve God.”
A unique brick mural on the outside of the original sanctuary, “The Ascension of Christ,” is the work and gift of Stan Hess, Professor of Art at Drake. It was carved from unfired or “green” brick requiring him to allow for the 9% shrinkage that would occur when fired. This was the first time a major ceramic mural was created in this way in Iowa. It uses traditional signs and symbols of the Ascension — the right hand in blessing and the left hand holding a Chi Rho cross, which combines the first two letters of the word “Christ“ in Greek.
The United Methodist Women, then called the Women’s Society of Christian Service, held their first meeting in March of 1961 with 23 charter members. The charter President was Mrytle Davies. Many of the everyday items used by the church were donated by the Women’s Society.
The United Methodist Men’s group received their charter June 25, 1961. The first president was Virgil Flesher. Memories of the group included meeting as a breakfast group on Sunday mornings before the service would begin.
An addition of 4 classrooms was built in 1966 and occupied December 1, 1966 at a cost of $38,000.
In April 1968 The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church combined to form The United Methodist Church. Aldersgate United Methodist Church ended its first decade with 873 full members and 394 preparatory members.
Historical information gleaned from Sarah Shostrom, Robert Simon and an article by Neva Bridgman (Wise). Thanks for your talents and memories!
1970–1979, Growth & Service
The decade of the 70’s brought many changes to Aldersgate. Rev. Carroll Usher was appointed pastor of Aldersgate in June of 1972. Rev. E. LeRoy Pullman, Margaret Keller’s Father, served as the visitation pastor between 1976 and 1980. Irene Parrott was the first Christian Education Director, followed by Jimmie Ellsworth who was in the position until June 1974 when Margaret Keller assumed those responsibilities.
On Sunday, February 25, 1979, the Dedication Service was held with Bishop Lance Webb as guest speaker. The organist was Judy Litherland and Joan Usher was the Senior Choir Director. Dwight Churchill, chair of the Iowa Conference Board of Trustees said the following as he addressed Bishop Webb, “I present this debt-free church to you for dedication, that it may forever be set apart for the Glory of God and the service of all mankind.”
From their first meeting in March 1961, the 23 charter members of the Women’s Society of Christian Service had organized into three circles by 1979. The United Methodist Men’s group had also grown by that time and continued their regular meetings.
The 70’s saw the church membership taking part in local and distant service projects. They include the Des Moines Hunger Hike with Mother Carrie as our honorary member. Our church sponsored two Cambodian refugee families. Mother Carrie and Norm Miller along with the 5th and 6th grade class reprocessed artificial limbs to be sent to a hospital in Bangladesh. Members also supported the work of Dr. Bruce Broughton and the Chicuque Methodist Hospital in Mozambique. Aldersgate men were involved in donating and constructing two wheel chair ramps for homes and the re-roofing of one neighbor’s home. The youth and counselors of Aldersgate started as builders and missionaries for the Appalachia Service Project. Many supplies and money along with sweat and hard work were donated to families in the Appalachians. This outreach continued for over 10 years.
Some daring members of our church also started the Aldersgate Men’s Slow Pitch Softball Team in 1973. Clancy Dickson started as the team’s manager and served from 1973-1993 and Greg Mollman has been manager since 1994. Aldersgate has remained the only church-sponsored team that has remained in the league throughout league history and is believed to be the only team that has played in all seasons.
The membership of Aldersgate in 1979 was 560 and there was a need for enlarging the church. The building committee met in April 1979, with Garland Carver as chair to determine the future needs of space for Aldersgate.
1980–89, New Worship Space
Plans for a new sanctuary, concourse and offices were presented and approved at a Charge Conference, April 26, 1981. The groundbreaking ceremony was held May 17 1981. The cost was to be $650,000 and was to serve our membership of 1050.
The first worship in the new space was Christmas Eve, 1981. There were no furnishings and the congregation was seated and standing amid the scaffolding to receive communion. Those present formed a living advent wreath and expressed their Christmas faith in song, scripture and praise to God. On January 31, 1982, the first Sunday service was held with 465 attending. Des Moines District Superintendent, Dr. Clifford Lott, who had been our organizing pastor, led the formal consecration service.
We often take for granted our beautiful table and altar in our sanctuary. The Black Family — Jack, Mickey and their son, Craig, designed and donated all the labor as well as Craig’s special gift of the oak cross. The base of the cross is made up of three levels representing faith, hope, and charity. Mickey’s expertise as a former art teacher, Jack’s knowledge as an industrial arts teacher for 26 years, and Craig’s employment as a woodworker made for the ideal team.
The ancient art form of marquetry was used to create the designs. It is an overlay technique using thin layers of wood. The designs incorporate woods from every continent, each in their natural colors (except for the bright red). The altar table is actually two tables with symbols that can be turned to coincide with the seasons of the church calendar.
The round stained glass window was a gift of the late Eliza Inman in memory of her husband, W.E. Inman. The circle, a symbol of eternity, is divided by a cross into the four seasons of the year. Beginning in the upper right and continuing clockwise, winter comes, followed by spring, summer and fall. The window inspired our church motto: “In all seasons of our journey… Christ is our window to life.”
UM Men was rechartered in 1984 with 56 members. The 25th Anniversary in 1985 included a walk of history showing our building progression.
In April 1988 our new organ was installed at a cost $18,060 made possible by a gift from the Kay Simpson estate along with donations from the congregation. In 1989 the new parsonage was purchased at 4524 75th Street.
She was never officially a part of the staff here, having come to Aldersgate in her 80’s in her 2nd retirement, but the death of Mother Carrie, a retired United Methodist pastor, left a void. She was a volunteer worker with the confirmation class and fifth grade class on Wednesdays after school. She was 104 years old when she died in August 1985.
Rev. Carroll Usher became Superintendent of the Waterloo District in 1983. He was followed by Rev. Orrin Potter, then Rev. Rick Dee in 1988. Our first associate pastor, Rev. Charles Luers, now Superintendent of the Creston District, was here from 1984–1990.
93 Flood & “Methodist Beer”
Who will forget the flood of 1993 when Troop 96 took “Methodist Beer” from the Coors Brewing Company to Wesley Acres retirement center? Actually, it was water that Coors had bottled in their beer cans for distribution when Des Moines was waterless.
The 1990s began with the appointment of Associate Pastor, Bob Culbertson. Rick Dee continued as Senior Pastor until 1993.
Arriving with the flood, Art and Nan Allen became our first clergy couple. Senior Pastor Nan had been baptized by Aldersgate’s first pastor, Cliff Lott, and her parents had been married by him. Art came as our part–time Associate.
Family Life Center
In February 1993 we completed payments on the sanctuary. Plans were already under way for a new building expansion. Aldersgate needed a complex that could provide a focus for family activities and boost the scope of services we could offer to our congregation and community. An architect’s model and plans for a Family Life Center were presented in the spring of 1993.
A Building Committee, chaired by Charles Gabus, was established by a Charge Conference on Jan. 11, 1994 after a financial campaign that began in October, 1993. Ground breaking was held on Oct 9. 1994, using the muscle power of church members, young and old, pulling a long rope on a one bottom plow on loan from Eliza Inman. The Family Life Center was consecrated in April 1996. The project included remodeling of Fellowship Hall, landscaping, a new kitchen, gymnasium, classrooms, & youth center.
The community benefited from that expansion in September of 1997 when Jensen Elementary School was flooded by a broken water main and the entire school moved into Aldersgate while repairs were made at the school.
Several new items were received by the church during the 1990’s. Church member Craig Black built the cabinet that now houses the historical display and supplies. The first display was in recognition of Mother Carrie. A “Miracle on 75th Street” project in 1992 raised money to refurbish the existing educational unit. The Fran Gabus memorial funded a remodeling of the church library.
Aldersgate expanded its newspaper advertising in 1992 with some wonderful cartoon sketches by Buck Jones. One of them is shown below.
In 1999 our debt was restructured into a loan with the goal of paying it off in three years.
Celebrate Past, Shape Future
The last 40 years has been quite an adventure. Membership has grown from 57 to nearly a thousand. Births, deaths, sorrows, and numerous celebrations have been part of our past. Our church now has 3rd generation families and many types of members to take us into the next decade and beyond.
What will our church look like when it is 100 years old in 2060? We are truly celebrating the past and shaping the future. Our every thought, prayer, and deed will determine the future of our church. Let’s do a great job for the 4th, 5th, and 6th generations and beyond.