First United Methodist Church of Clifton has a rich heritage because of its people. They are people who have said “yes” to Jesus Christ. They are people like you and me. They have talents, assets, and faults. They have one thing in common, a desire to further God’s kingdom on this earth. It is they, and not a building, who make up First United Methodist Church of Clifton.
First Church, Clifton was officially organized in 1876 as a mission church and shared services with the Presbyterian church. In 1897 the first small frame church was built on land purchase west of the Clifton railroad tracks. By 1901 Clifton became Methodist Episcopal and had “preaching” every third Sunday, sharing its pastor with Valley Mills, Coon Creek and China Spring.
The M.E. Church South made its first report to the Annual Conference in 1908. About this time it became evident that the location of the church building was too near the railroad tracks and also too near the Bosque River. A heavy rain sometimes put the river out of its banks and flooded the area where the church sat. At all times the noise of the trains was a disruptive feature that interspersed the pastor’s sermons. He would try to time his sermon so he would finish before the noon train came through. No only did the train make so much noise that he could not be heard, but many of the congregation simply would get up and leave to go watch the train pass through.
Thus, the building was moved to its present location on Avenue E. Additions were made to the building doubling its size. The Womens Missionary Society (or Ladies Aid as it was known then) was organized. The membership in 1908 was 101 and the pastor’s salary was $500 a year.
The late Lena Helm shared stories of ice cream socials on the lawn of the little church on summer Sunday afternoons. The late Mrs. John Neel said that sometimes the young people ate their ice cream, then left to go on picnics of their own, usually down at the river. Once some of the young ladies took off theirs shoes and stockings and waded in the river. Their parents were horrified to learn the girls had shown their ankles in such a brazen manner.
Columns of figures do not lend themselves to accurate historical interpretation, but the figures do make us think about what was happening. For instance, in 1918 the total membership of this church was 215. The following year it dropped to 178 – a loss of 37 members. That was the year the terrible Spanish influenza epidemic claimed so many lives in this town as well as throughout the nation. It was also the beginning of World War I.
In the midst of the big economic depression, where there were so many business failures, people were losing their jobs and no one had much cash, the old frame building was torn down and the present tan brick sanctuary and three rooms were built. For history’s sake, it should be explained that Tom Parks was mainly responsible for the decision to build a new church in the midst of the Great Depression.
He explained to the people that there would never be a time again when materials and labor would be so cheap and so available. Carpenters and other workmen could be employed for $1 a day, and there was an abundance of volunteer labor among the church members who had time on their hands. Mr. Parks guaranteed a loan from the bank, and he personally promised to match every dollar pledged by members of the congregation. So it was that this church dared to go forward.
The first worship service held in the new sanctuary was on February 5, 1933 with 259 members present. The pastor’s salary was $1,500.
A fellowship hall and kitchen were added in 1952. The lot next door to the church was purchased in 1961 and an attractive three bedroom parsonage was added to the building program in 1961.
In 1968 the Methodist Episcopal church became the First United Methodist Church. The first preschool to exist in Clifton was begun and held in the church building in 1969. An education wing was completed in 1972.
The church celebrated its 125th birthday in 2002 – a year late – with a covered dish luncheon and birthday cake. A prayer was said asking God’s blessings on the church for the next 126 years and thanking God for all the past blessings He had showered on the church and its people. The membership was 364 and the pastor’s salary was $61,768.
Each new addition and renovation has been a dream fulfilled for that time, but fulfilled dreams only lead to new dreams and new challenges. To meet the needs of coming generations, reconstruction, renovation, and additions to the building were implemented beginning in 2008. They were completed in 2011.