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Utica UMC celebrates 200 years

Three church leaders

One of Michigan’s oldest congregations thanks God for faithfulness and looks toward new opportunities in ministry.

Content Editor

On Sunday, April 23, 2023, the Utica United Methodist Church kicked off its 200 years of ministry celebration with a special worship service and a catered meal.

The Rev. Don Gotham, pastor of Utica UMC, the Rev. Dr. Darryl Totty, superintendent of the Greater Detroit District, and Bishop David Alan Bard led the day’s events. Over 130 people attended worship, and 90 stayed for the catered meal.

In his sermon, Bishop Bard reminded the congregation of the opportunity for reflection that anniversary celebrations give: “Friends, I think you know this, but 200th anniversaries are a good time to look back and look ahead. You know that ministry is about both questions.”

One of Michigan’s oldest United Methodist congregations, Utica UMC was founded by five devoted Methodists, including Revolutionary War veteran Nathaniel Squire and his wife, Jemima, in 1823. This was only seven years after the death of Francis Asbury, the first bishop of American Methodism.

Old church and new church
Utica UMC’s first church building still stands (left) but is now occupied by another congregation. The current building (right) was built in the mid-1960s. ~ photo courtesy Utica UMC

The early congregation met in farmhouses, barns, and a log schoolhouse, until 1839, when the first church building was constructed. In 1855, the church was cut in half and moved in two sections to a more prominent location. The original building still stands today at that location. In 1964, ground was broken at 8650 Canal Rd. in Sterling Heights, and a new church building was built. This is where the congregation worships today.

Through the years, Utica UMC has been blessed with the spiritual leadership of over one hundred ministers. The first minister was circuit rider Rev. Elias Pattee, who served the Huron circuit, which extended from Detroit west to present-day Jackson.

Other notable early members of the church were Peter and Sarah Lerich. The Lerich family operated the Spring Hill Farm stop on the Underground Railroad. A couple of nesting bald eagles in Shelby Township were recently named Peter and Sarah after the Lerich family.

Bishop Bard touched on Utica’s long commitment to ministry, stretching back to those formative years, and expressed appreciation for their witness as they live into their vision statement.

“Your vision as a church is: ‘Transforming ourselves into a church that purposefully grows disciples of Jesus Christ by loving and serving our community.’ You want to be the gardeners God has called you to be. You support the wider ministries of The United Methodist Church. You organize blood drives. You offer oil changes. You seek to keep your community clean and beautiful. . . . You want to love and serve your community in all kinds of concrete ways.”

Church display
The church is one of the oldest congregations in the state of Michigan, dating back to the early Methodist class meetings that met in Utica in 1823. ~ photo courtesy Utica UMC

Utica UMC is actively involved in their community through various outreach ministries, including an Oil Change Ministry, a Red Cross Blood Drives host, partnering with the City of Sterling Heights to be a National Drug Take Back Day site, and annual road cleanup days.

Utica UMC is also a proud EngageMI congregation, partnering with the Michigan Conference to support mission and ministry here in Michigan, nationally, and worldwide.

Utica UMC has been seeking “to know God’s grace, to grow in God’s love,” as Bishop Bard mentioned, for 200 years and hopes to be doing this for many more.

Pastor Gotham said, “Utica UMC is a congregation whose deep desire is to live their faith by responding to the community’s needs. People here are active in worship, Bible study, committee work, and more, but the passion that causes everyone to move in the same direction is making the love of Jesus real to the community by meeting the needs of others. With this passion, I see Utica UMC being in ministry for many years to come.”

Many other events are planned throughout the year to celebrate the church’s 200 years of history and ministry. On Sunday, June 18, 2023, at 9:30 am, there will be one worship service called Proclamation Sunday. Local, state, and federal government officials have been invited to attend church and share greetings.

Last Updated on May 9, 2023

The Michigan Conference