Early 19th century Mount Pleasant, MI was a forested Indian reservation and a small logging town with impending questionable developers and religious fervor in its future. According to historian William Cron, the fluctuating itinerant logging camps and the rather small yet enduring population of Mount Pleasant did not require a permanent church building, holding services in private homes. But with a religious revival came the town’s first church. The Methodist Episcopal Church erected a building in 1865 that was quickly outgrown and then built a larger sanctuary in 1882 on the corner of Main and Wisconsin streets. The church’s beautiful Gothic Architecture quickly established its prominence. The new sanctuary was lauded as one of the most attractive buildings in Mount Pleasant and was a showcase for the wealth and prominence of a growing city newly connected by rail to the rest of the Midwest (26).
The second instillation of the Methodist church pulled on the influences of European architecture to convey the grandeur and splendor of old world cathedrals. This communicates not just an appreciation of history, but also a reverence of tradition and spiritual hierarchy in a house of worship. According to the First United Methodist Church’s (note the name changed from Methodist Episcopal Church) website, the second version of the church was “razed” to make room for the 1960-61 construction of the current building. The new church, which currently stands on the Main and Wisconsin site in no way mirrors the peaks, arches, ornamentation or the historical European roots of the Gothic architecture above. The flower urns bordering the parking lot (lower left corner) might be the closest this latest incarnation can come to a classically inspired cathedral.
In comparison to its architecturally Gothic predecessor, the new building is pragmatic and is not awe-inspiring, which is perhaps the intent of such a drastic departure in design. The new construction replaced the grandeur of the old with rectangles; the before and after is certainly striking. It is also notable that, in contrast to the past, the Mount Pleasant of today no longer contains buildings evocative of medieval royalty.
In Chicago, however, the grandeur of Gothic cathedral Methodist churches still abounds. These castle-like constructions not only present a connotation of permanence but also the beauty and excess of exalted position. Founded in Wilmette, IL in1874, The Trinity United Methodist Church finished construction on the existing sanctuary in 1930. The current Gothic cathedral is a castle, but it is not a feudal system, moat protected, soldiered watchtower kind of castle. It is a jeweled showcase of wealth, security and prominence.
The beauty, the height, the windows, the total disregard for the heating bill… all invite people in to worship and adore. This is the kind of church to host a storybook wedding with a team of professional photographers to capture the setting as well as the couple.
The First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple is another nice example of splendid excess. A small congregation was founded in 1831 and made the debated decision to build big in the 1920s. According to their website, they decided to build following the pronouncement of “…the great Chicago architect Daniel Burnham who famously said: ‘Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work… Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.’” http://chicagotemple.org/architecture/
And so they finished the tallest church building in the world in 1924. While several floors in the middle are rented office space, the beauty of the sky chapel and the ground floor sanctuary evoke wealth, splendor and awe.
The intent of this architecture is to evoke reverence.
If beauty is a call to worship, then the 1882 Methodist Episcopal Church building of Mount Pleasant, MI and the grandeur of Chicago’s gothic Methodist cathedrals are an ornamented testament to the power of architecture to reflect and inspire religious awe. If beauty is a call to worship then the intentional design of vaulted ceilings, pinnacled spires, arched windows and ornate cornices express reverence. If beauty is a call to worship then the meticulous detail, the flourishing stonework and the engineering speak to the dedication of the craftspeople as well as to the financial commitment of the congregation and community members.
In contrast, what does the current building of the First United Methodist Church of Mount Pleasant evoke?
Cron, William. Mount Pleasant, 1854-1954. Arcadia Publishing. 2004. Google Book Search. Web. 30 May 2014 and 2 June 2014.
Chicago Wedding Ceremony Sites. Web. 30 May 2014 – 4 June 2014. < http://www.chicagoweddingceremonysites.com/main/>.
Fancher, Isaac A. Past and Present of Isabella County, Michigan. Indianapolis, IN: B. F. Bowen & Company. 1911. OpenLibrary.org. Web. 30 May 2014 – 4 June 2014.
First United Methodist Church. Web. 30 May 2014 – 4 June 2014. < http://mtpfumc.globat.com/history.html >.
First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple. Web. 30 May 2014 – 4 June 2014. <http://chicagotemple.org/architecture/>.
First United Methodist Church of Chicago. Web. 2 June 2014 – 4 June 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_United_Methodist_Church_of_Chicago>.
Methodist Episcopal Church and Parsonage, Mt. Pleasant, MI 1908. Web. 2 June 2014. <http://www.ebay.com/itm/Methodist-Episcopal-Church-and-Parsonage-Mt-Pleasant-MI-1908-/370999594852>.
Trinity United Methodist Church. Web. 30 May 2014 – 4 June 2014. < http://www.trinitywilmette.com>.
6 thoughts on “Beauty and the Bland: Methodist Cathedrals – Contributed by Donna Giuliani”
As I said in the reply I made to Vern old churches are some of my favorite buildings to admire. I like the churches you picked, very nice pictures. My favorite part of your essay is when you said “The beauty, the height, the windows, the total disregard for the heating bill…”. I laughed pretty loud after reading that statement. It did get me to thinking about these older churches and the size with no forced air furnaces 100+ years ago. It would have been so much more economical and practical to have a smaller building with lower ceilings. Size and beauty won out and that is great for us because we can enjoy these buildings while being warmed!
I think it is interesting to consider how important it was that these buildings be absolutely ostentatious. I live in an old farmhouse with a few original fieldstone walls, and that west wind can whip through here even with the stone, insulation and plaster. These cold winters are expensive and I can’t imagine that Chicago or Bay City are any warmer or less windy (not counting the blowhards!).
Anyway, thank you for the comment!
Hey Donna, I enjoyed that you gave some background information as to why the church was built in Mt. Pleasant. I feel that it is important to know a structures past before you can understand its full meaning. I also feel like the old version of the church better represented divinity with its gothic appeal, while the newer version attempts to glorify modern architecture. I liked how you talked about the ” bigger is better” aspect of Chicago architecture, because even with my second trip to Chicago I found the city to be a tad overwhelming.
I was going to tell a much less complicated story about Fancher Elementary, but then I started learning about Isaac Fancher who became influential and wealthy after brokering the sale of hundreds (if not thousands) of acres of Native land in exchange for alcohol, beads, etc. The history of Mount Pleasant is fraught with injustice, and the Methodist Church seemed a benign tale in comparison.
I never really thought about how the look and style of churches have changed over the year, Where I live all the churches that are older are huge and have a bunch of wonderful type of architecture, now the churches that are being built lack all of that. I think that churches meant more to people in the past then they do now so there was more time being put into the building. Not to say that there are not some beautiful new churches out there but I think people that simple is the best.
This comparison was very good and informative , great Job !!!