The history of Elgin United Methodist Church is deeply intertwined with the history of other ecumenical partners establishing their presence in this small northeastern Oregon town toward the end of the 19th century.
Whether it was establishing roots in Elgin alongside the Baptists more than 130 years ago, partnering with the Presbyterians for worship for a time or holding a church in the park every summer with other ministerial partners, Elgin UMC left a lasting mark on the community before closing in 2019.
“We all worked together for a lot of years,” said Gerald Hopkins, lay pastor at the congregation when it closed.
As church history states, the Methodist Church raced alongside the Baptist Church to incorporate themselves and build their building. The Methodist Church was first incorporated in Elgin on May 12, 1887. But the Baptist Church was constructed in early 1889. The Methodist Church was just a few months behind.
When the Methodist Church was incorporated, they planned to purchase the Elgin Hall, which was a newly constructed building designed for a hall or recreation building, located on Main Street. Debts and labor liens against the hall, and the fact that a saloon was started next door, discouraged the congregation on the site, Hopkins said.
A man named Mr. Stevensen agreed to plat five more blocks of town in addition to the three that he had already platted, and he promised the church a location in the new addition.
Arthur Hallgarth wrote, “The second church was a Methodist Church and was built by Dr. Thompson. I gave a benefit dance that raised $22 to help buy the bell for the church.”
Unfortunately, the original church building was destroyed in a 1930 fire and Hopkins said United Methodists in Elgin and Union began worshipping together with the Presbyterians. In Union, the Presbyterians met at the United Methodist Church. In Elgin, they met at the Presbyterian Church.
For various reasons, Hopkins said that partnership in Elgin didn’t last and the United Methodists then purchased the building originally built by the Baptists in 1888/1889. They continued to meet there until the church closed in 2019.
In 1953 the church added a fellowship hall with the support of Dorothea Davis and in 1960 the church purchased its parsonage.
Hopkins got involved in Elgin UMC when he moved to the area in the 1990s. A cradle Methodist, he liked the family-oriented environment of the church.
“We supported many of the local events and food banks,” he said.
In 2009, after years of clergy and certified lay pastors serving the church, Hopkins said the church administrative board decided to keep the congregation going through the service of lay pastors.
Myrna Davis stepped into the role in 2015 and Hopkins joined her in serving in that pastoral role.
“It was something I had a calling to do,” Hopkins said. “My grandpa was a circuit rider, so it was in my blood.”
The church partnered with the Elgin ministerial association – a rare commodity Hopkins thinks in such a small town – to host yearly church in the park events complete with climbing walls and bouncy houses. They also helped buy supplies for backpacks for students every year.
Even though the church had declining membership and closure was on the horizon, members partnered with the city and county to open a warming shelter in the city park this year that can house up to four people.
The church closed in October 2019 and the 12 members remaining had their membership transferred to La Grande UMC. Before the pandemic stopped them, the 12 continued to meet informally on a monthly basis in the community. Hopkins hopes they’ll see each other again soon.