Wesley United Methodist celebrates its firsts at 150th birthday party

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August 27, 2002 // UPDATED 1:29 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Ellen Nigon
Ellen Nigon

On Sunday, Sept. 15, the church that can boast a horse as a former member will turn 150. And being the church of choice for Minnesota racehorse Dan Patch is just one of the firsts that Wesley United Methodist can claim.

At Sunday's bash, Wesley United Methodist Church, 101 E. Grant St., will also celebrate their appointment of Senior Pastor Suzanne Mades -- Wesley's first bishop-appointed female senior pastor.

"Historically, this church has always been forward-thinking where women have always been involved," said Wesley communications director Terry Keeling.

As far back as 1888, United Methodist Church sent Mary Clarke Nind to the General Conference, the international gathering of United Methodist leaders that at the time only men attended. Nind and five other women were denied seating at the conference, but according to Keeling, an investigation resulted. "In 1956, when the General Conference met in Minneapolis, [Wesley] was where they had worship services and they affirmed that women could be ordained," Keeling said.

This tradition for inclusiveness carried Wesley to 1986, when it became the first Untied Methodist church in Minnesota and the sixth in the country to become a reconciling congregation -- committed to the ministry for everyone regardless of race, gender, age, economic status, ability or sexual orientation.

"We were actually functioning as a reconciling church before the reconciling movement got off the ground. In 1983, GLBT people were already here," Mades said.

While Mades has the distinction of being Wesley's first bishop-appointed female senior pastor, Dr. George Mecklenburg was probably Wesley's most famous senior pastor.

Mecklenburg, pastor from 1928 to 1949, increased the congregation's size from 600 members to more than 2,500 in seven years. Keeling said that Mecklenburg was so popular that he had to repeat his fiery Sunday sermons on Monday nights for those who weren't able to fit into the packed Sunday service.

According to Keeling, Mecklenburg had an active political life in Minneapolis in the 1920s and 1930s. "He exposed a lot of corruption within the political environment in Minneapolis," Keeling said.

With this reputation preceding him, Mecklenburg was refused a visa in 1939 while trying to enter Nazi Germany.

But perhaps the most famous non-human member of Wesley United Methodist was legendary racehorse Dan Patch. Hanging in Mades' office is a photograph of Patch taken in 1906, racing with a time of 1 minute, 55 seconds.

Keeling recounted the story of how Patch came to be a member of Wesley. "Marion Savage, who owned a large farm in the area that is now Savage, used to hang around race horses. But he never bet because he was a good Methodist," Keeling said with a grin. "He fell in love with Dan Patch and bought him for $60,000 in 1902."

After Savage bought Patch, he only raced him for exhibition. Part of the money raised from the exhibition races went to Wesley United Methodist. "So the church issued him his own set of envelopes," Keeling said. "They say we're the only church to ever have a member who is a horse." Keeling said

On Sunday, Wesley will celebrate its long and colorful history with musical entertainment by Lake Country Chorus, Sweet Adelines, Jumpin' Jehosafats, Inner Voice, Jubilations and the Wesley Choir beginning at 1 p.m. at the church followed by an ice cream social at 3 p.m. For more information, see http://www.theWesleyChurch.org.