As we begin to share the history of our church we need to remember that there are always a variety of interpretations within history. Not everyone sees the same thing happening. Our articles are to share some of those views with you from the 1850’s to 2005. This months article is from the 1850’s-1876.

Methodism was visible in SE Minnesota beginning in the 1850’s. Men known as circuit riders made rounds of the early settlements on horseback carrying with them the message of the Gospel.

Organized Methodism seems to start with a Reverend Benjamin Christ who held worship services in a school house in Richland Prairie in the vicinity of what is now the town of Mabel.

Our relationship started with a conference held at Racine, Wisconsin in 1855. A number of things came out of that conference. One was a Reverend John Dyer was appointed to visit Fillmore and Olmsted counties. A series of revival meetings were held in those counties and Chatfield hosted two of them on November 24 and 25, 1855. Second was Reverend George Stevenson was appointed to Chatfield and he reported in the fall of 1855 membership of 75 full members and 25 probationers plus a Sunday School enrollment of 76. Now numbers like this tell us that Chatfield had been working on starting a church for some time.

When did we start our church? That is hard to say because it happened sometime in the1850’s with the Minnesota Conference getting involved on August 7, 1856 with the first pastor being appointed from that conference. His name was John D. Rich. Since our 100th Anniversary was in 1956, we seem to have chosen our relationship with the Minnesota Annual Conference of 1856 as a starting point. Certainly the Chatfield Methodist Episcopal Church was there long before that as the community of Chatfield was growing from the early 1850’s and people of the community were organizing into church fellowships.

Very little is known about where they worshiped as they had no church structure until 1859. The “History of Fillmore County” states that it was one of the very first churches to be built in Fillmore County. The dedication was well attended and the collection taken up was good enough that the church was left with only a $100.00 debt! Early in its history this building was almost lost to a forest fire which swept down from Winona Hill.

This building served well until 1866 and a new church was built on the present site. This building would serve the church well until 1898. The first building was sold and removed in order to make room for the second building.

In 1866 a residence for the pastor was purchased. This building was secured on the condition that it be used only as a parsonage.

In the first 20 years of existence, Chatfield Methodist Episcopal Church had 18 pastors. They are as follows:

George N. Stevenson1855-1856Wisconsin Conference
John D. Rich1856-1857 Minnesota Conference
J. H. Leard1857-1858
E. Tucker1858-1859
John W. Stugdill1859-1860
Nahum Tainter1860-1861
N. Lathrop1861-1862
Andrew J. Nelson1862-1863
Supplies not named1863-1865
B. Blain & J. R. Creighton1865-1867First Parsonage
O.C. Gregg1867-1868
A. M. Stevens1868-1869
W. Carver1869-1871
W. C. Shaw1871-1872
J. L. Fasig1872-1873
J. W. Yokum1873-1874
H. C. Jennings1874-1876

The best known of all these early pastors was H.C. Jennings, familiarly known as “Court.” He was converted at a Fillmore Camp meeting and worked his way through the ‘Academy’ at Chatfield, and obtained enough higher education so that he was ordained at the age of 21. He later had a large congregation in St. Paul and went on to become the Publishing Agent for the huge ‘Western Methodist Book Concern’ in Cincinnati. He visited Chatfield often and is buried in our cemetery.

I hope you have enjoyed going back in history and looking at the Methodist Episcopal Church of Chatfield for its first 20 years. What I gather from this first segment is that Methodism has always been a part of Chatfield. We have a strong heritage to uphold. We have a deep foundation in presenting the Gospel to the early settlers of this community. We have no less responsibility now to keep presenting the Gospel to all those who will hear.