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METHODISTS IN UTAH

By Connie Fife

First United Methodist Church, Salt Lake

During the summer of 1868, the Reverend A.N. Fisher, representing the Nevada Conference of the Methodist Church, visited Salt Lake City. At the invitation of Brigham Young, he preached the first Methodist sermon in Utah in the Mormon Tabernacle. His sermon on heavenly riches was reputedly publicly mocked by Young: Fisher claimed, "I sustained the humiliation of having my sermon ridiculed before an audience of thousands of people." Nonetheless, as a result of this trip the Methodists sought a person to supervise their activities in the Intermountain area. Reverend Lewis Hartsough became the missionary superintendent of Wyoming, Utah, and southern Idaho under the Colorado Conference. Because of his work in developing a Utah mission, he is known as the father of Methodism in Utah. His first sermon in Utah was preached with the encouragement and aid of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Tuttle offered the use of the room his church occupied as well as the services of his congregation's organist.

In the spring of 1870, Dr. Hartsough returned to the east seeking people and financial aid for the work in Utah. On 22 May 1870, Reverend Gustave Pierce came to Utah to continue the work started by Reverend Hartsough. He organized The First Methodist Church of Salt Lake City. Fausts Hall, the first official meeting place of the church, was an old hayloft over a stable and rented for fifty dollars a month. Pierce called it "an exorbitant amount, but our only chance". That same year Reverend Pierce began the Methodist contribution of education in Utah by opening a school known as the Rocky Mountain Seminary. Within two years the school had an impressive enrollment of 220 pupils, and it remained open until 1893. Pierce later organized other churches and schools in Corrine, Tooele, Beaver, and Provo.

Methodists consider their greatest contribution to the development of the state of Utah to be in the field of education. While Mormons had established schools in every area they entered in Utah, these schools generally taught only the very basic fundamentals of learning. They suffered a low attendance rate and short school year, often less than three months. The Mormon struggle for survival and effort toward colonization, didn't allow for a concentrated effort toward education. Non-Mormons in Utah had the resources to focus on education as wll as the desire to limit the Mormon influence in the school system. The institution of polygamy and the use of the Deseret alphabet, for example, were seen as attacks on fundamental American systems.

From 1870 until 1894 Methodist education in Utah thrived. A total of forthy-two schools had been established. Not all of the schools were open at the same time, and some lasted only a year. Young women representing the Women's Home Missionary Society made up a majority of the teachers within the schools. In 1890, the most successful year, there were 26 schools operating with 32 teachers and 1,467 pupils. These pupils included 544 Mormons, 673 former Mormons, and 250 Protestants. The effectiveness of the schools helped keep the conflict between Mormons and Methodists in the area of education to a minimum.

When the opportunity afforded itself, Methodists worked towards the establishment of a free public educations system. In 1890 the territorial legislature passed such a bil, and by 1917 Methodist involvement in education in Utah came to an end.

As the need for Methodist resources in education diminished, more emphasis was placed on mission work. Since the church's organization in 1784 the Methodists had been one of the foremost evangelical groups on the American frontier. Methodists considered it their responsibility to convert the nonbeliever to Methodism, which included a desired conversion to the strict moral standards of the Methodist lifestyle. Mormons were not considered by many Mthodists to be Christians, and the practice of polygamy was considered evil. Because of this practice and the theocratic form of government used by the Mormons, they were considered to be un-American by the Methodists, who set their sights on Americanizing Utah and winning Mormons to Methodism.

Mormons generally voted as a group represented by one political party. To Methodists, this was un-democratic, consequently they became involved in political efforts to prevent Utah from becoming a state until the LDS Church arranged to have its people divided along national party lines.

Although the Methodists placed prominence on their mission to the Mormons in Utah, they also established churches and schools in the predominantly non-Mormon mining towns These were challenging tasks because of the transient population of those areas and the endangered survival of the towns themselves. Substantial congregations would be wiped out with a depression or a strike that would close a mine. However, the church at Park City was at one time the most successful Methodist church in the state. In 1891 it boasted 300 members, the largest in the territory, and had become entirely self supporting--the first Methodist church in Utah to achieve this. By 1894, Methodists were active in at least forty-two towns. According to the census figures of 1895, church membership was 1,440. Membership increased to 2,021 in 1936, to 4,351 in 1952, to 5,956 in 1971, and to approximately 7,000 by 1990.

The Women's Home Missionary Society is prominent in Utah Methodist history. The society was founded on 10 July 1880, and in the winter of that year two of its first missionaries arrived in Utah. The society's focus was on education and social work. Within six years of its arrival, the Women's Home Missionary Society had missionaries and teachers in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Moroni, Spanish Fork, Richfield, Elsinore, Grantsville, Ephriam, Mount Pleasant, and Spring City. In some areas they worked with missionaries or ministers from the Utah mission, but in some of the smaller towns they were responsible for Sunday services including the preaching of sermons.

Shortly after its arrival in Utah, the Women's Home Society became active in joining the protest against polygamy, and it was active in the push for a constitutional amendment making polygamy constitutionally illegal. Methodist propaganda was influential in the Supreme Court's decision in the case of Reynolds v. The United States, which held that it was in the power of the civil government to determine whether plural marriage was legal. Propaganda also had a direct effect on anti-polygamy legislation in Congress which culminated in the Edmunds Tucker Law of 1887. Antipolygamy activity resulted in the Manifesto issued in 1890 by the LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff advising against the contracting of any further plural marriages in the United States. In 1904 the Mormon Church officially prohibited polygamy.

Angie Newmon, a member of the society, was instrumental in the development of an interdenominationally supported home which served as a refuge for discontented or abandoned plural wives and their children. She raised $6,500 at a convention of the Women's Home Missionary Society held in Cincinnati. The first session of the Forty-ninth Congress awarded $40,000 in aid to the home in 1886. A year later, an additional $74,000 was appropriated by Congress. The home was intended to be a refuge for women and children affected by the legislation against polygamy. It contained forty sleeping rooms which could be increased to fifty if necessary. The highest rate of occupancy was in September 1887 when it contained eleven women and twenty-two children. It ceased operations 15 June 15 1893, and $90,300 was lost when the home was sold for $22,500. While the home was a financial failure, it represented a major stepping stone in cooperation between denominations.

The women's society also set up two boarding homes, called Esther Halls, one in Salt Lake City and one in Ogden. These homes were set up in 1914 as homes for working women who needed shelter. Admission was not affected by church status or ability to pay.

From its beginning finances were a problem for the Utah Methodist Mission. The small church membership in Utah could not support the activities deemed necessary; therefore most of the financing came from outside Utah. From 1879 until 1948 Utah Methodism had the status of a mission. This meant that its financial burdens came under the general care of the whole church. In July of 1948, due to the request of the church in Utah, the status of Utah Methodism changed to the Salt Lake City District of the Colorado Conference. Under this form of church government, Utah Methodism now carries its own burdens and represents a significant portion of the non-Mormon community within the state.