Graham Methodist Church in rural Rice to celebrate 120 years

The little country church has seen several transformations

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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Graham United Methodist Church is planning a celebration of 120 years of service to the Rice community. A service of commemoration is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 29, at the church, beginning at 9 a.m. Following the service, historical documents collected over the years will be displayed and everyone is welcome to  partake in refreshments.

Graham Methodist Church in Rice will celebrate 120 years Sunday, Jan. 29, during a special service. The top photo shows the original church. The photo below shows the current church with its recent renovations.

Situated at 2265 135th Street, east of Rice, the country church has seen several transformations over its lifetime. It was first built in 1892 about a mile south of its current location. That was the same year the church was formally and legally incorporated under the name “Immanuel’s Church of the Evangelical Association of North America of Graham Township.”

Along with the church, a cemetery was plotted and a parsonage built adjacent to the church. Both are still there, and being used.

Long before the church was erected, both the St. Cloud Mission and the Two Rivers Mission established preaching appointments near Rice. Those appointments took place from 1873 – 1887. In 1885, a Sunday School was started and the church was constructed six years after a tornado swept through the area, killing about 12 people during a wedding at a home in the area.

In 1913, the original church building was moved one mile north to  accommodate the shifting population of the area.

“People came to church by horse in those days,” said church historian Cliff Weitgenant. “The congregation felt it would be easier for parishioners to get to church on a cold winter morning if it was moved closer to where people lived.”

At that time, 135th Street was a main road into Rice and well traveled. But, in the 1950s, Weitgenant said a bridge over a creek into Little Rock Lake was washed out and never replaced. After that, the road was no longer a main thoroughfare. In hindsight, it would have been better to leave the church where it was.

Cliff Weitgenant

In 1935, an unused Methodist Church was moved several miles to the Immanuel Church’s property, remodeled and used as community center, social hall and Sunday School. In 1941, the original church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The social hall survived, unscathed, and until a new church one was built, it served as the place of worship.

A new church was erected in 1942, but not without some extra paperwork. The country was at war with Germany and Japan; just about everything was being rationed. Supplies to rebuild needed to be requisitioned from the government. But, the request went through and a new church was erected. It was dedicated as “Immanuel Evangelical Church.”

“Denominational mergers in 1946 and 1968 resulted in name changes to that of Graham Evangelical United Brethren Church and finally, to the current name of Graham United Methodist Church, affiliated with the Big Waters District of the Minnesota United Methodist Conference in Duluth,” said Weitgenant.

In 1972, an addition was added that incorporated both the church and the social hall. It allowed the congregation to add classrooms, offices and more seating for the sanctuary. A modern kitchen was also installed. Then, in 1983, a parsonage was built to the north of the church.

The social hall, that was originally a Methodist Church, was replaced by a larger facility in 1996, which added more classrooms and a larger gathering area. The kitchen was also remodeled. There was now three times the space for the congregation to gather.

More renovations took place in 2008, giving the church an updated look both inside and out. The congregation felt it would help attract new people. The sanctuary now holds about 190 people. The church had closed circuit television installed so when more seating is needed, the service may be broadcast into the social area.

“The acoustics were bad, and there wasn’t much for insulation in the old building,” said Weitgenant. “Our heating bill dropped by thousands of dollars each year after we remodeled.”

The old dark wood made way for lighter-colored wood, the building was made handicapped accessible and the chancel was opened up, giving it a lighter, more modern look.

Pastor Sue Maki

“We left the Gothic arches in the sanctuary, keeping the original look,” said Weitgenant.

Since then, the cemetery was expanded and a carport/entryway was added to the church.

Rev. Sue Maki joined the church in 2007, and cannot picture herself anywhere else.

“When I came for my interview, I felt right at home, right away,” she said. “I was taken in as family.

“There is an amazing mumber of children that come to the church, and I love it,” she said. “We are a growing and flourishing church. It makes other Methodist churches envious.”

Weitgenant said that the church is more than just the building. It’s more about the people and the five to six generations of some families who are members.

“We are celebrating the congregation of 120 years. The people are who really count,” he said.