Our Church in the 20th Century
In 1986, two church historians, Eleanor Mayhall (Kim Floyd’s mother) and Mary Crichton (Jan Crichton’s mother), marked “140 Years of Heritage” for Riverview First United Methodist Church by producing a brief history of the church up to that time. This timeline marked significant milestones in our local congregation’s history over the past 140 years.
In 1846, the first small church in Peru (pronounced Pee-roo) consisted of a one-room log cabin serving 4 families.
You will remember that in 1895, the third incarnation of our church, the Riverview Methodist-Episcopal Church, became our first location north of the Alafia River. That building was so poorly constructed that it was demolished in a windstorm in 1899. In 1900, that church was rebuilt as a one-room sanctuary that had a foot-pumped organ and wooden benches. Since this church was constructed well before electricity, it was lit by the carbide gas lights so common in that era.
The next enhancements to the church occurred during World War I. Electricity came in. A pulpit space was built into the north wall of the sanctuary, and the seating was changed. A used pulpit was re-purposed from an abandoned Presbyterian church in Bloomingdale. A belfry was added to the main building, and a wood heater was installed in the center of the sanctuary.
In the 1920’s, a small frame parsonage was built just north of the church. In that decade, our first Brownie, Girl Scout and Boy Scout units were organized for the church. RUMC also started a chapter of the Epworth League, a youth organization that was the precursor of the Methodist Youth Fellowship.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s adult fellowship was as important as worship. The Women’s Missionary Society (the ancestor of today’s United Methodist Women) organized dinners, ice cream socials, quilting bees, and a community garden. The adult choir was first organized in 1938.
During World War II, the church even supported a 21-piece orchestra. The orchestra not only played for worship services, but it was also in demand for appearances across Hillsborough County.
Until World War II, the church was dependent upon circuit riding preachers, but in 1947, the Reverend J. J. Buell became our first full-time minister. Between 1950 and 1951, the final major modification to wooden church was made. A large choir loft was built into the east end of the sanctuary, and the pulpit and seating were moved to accommodate the loft.
The mid-1950’s was an era of explosive growth for RUMC. The Della McLeod Building was a major addition. This building contained our first kitchen and a junior chapel. The chapel was even used as a classroom for Riverview Elementary during the week to relieve school overcrowding. Nowadays, the McLeod Building is home to our church nursery, children’s church, and choir practice room.
The Dorothy Savidge Nursery Building was also constructed during this period. That building supported a Kindergarten school that was sponsored by our Gleaners Sunday School class. Today, that building has been repurposed as the RESTORE Thrift Store. It was renamed after Jean Campbell in 2007 over the objections of many of our long-time members. Dorothy Savidge was the wife of our minister in the early 1950’s, while Jean Campbell ran our Meals on Wheels program for 27 years.
The old sanctuary suffered one final upgrade. The wooden benches were removed from the sanctuary and were replaced by theatre seating.
However, by 1960, membership and attendance continued to explode as the post-war boom brought more and more families out to the county’s suburbs. In 1960, groundbreaking began on the fifth and current iteration of our sanctuary, and in January, 1961, the first worship service was held in our new building. In 1962, an eight unit classroom building, known as the Merle Building, was dedicated. A new three-bedroom parsonage was built on the north bank of the Alafia River in 1964, and the old parsonage was repurposed into a Youth Center.
In addition to new construction, the church continually added programs for its members. The first iteration of our United Methodist Men was created in 1956, the Sunshine Choir for children as organized in 1960, and our church newsletter, The Bell, began publication in 1965. For many years, starting in the 1960’s the men of the church re-enacted the Last Supper on Maundy Thursday of Easter week.
The church library was reorganized, was fully stocked, and put into active use. The congregation established a 24-hour open prayer chapel. Parking lot lighting was added, and a bulletin type sign board was placed in front of the church. Many of our old-timers remember that when they were teenagers in the early 1970’s, the old church parsonage became a Youth Coffee House Mission—and a popular after-school hangout.
The Riverview chapter of Meals on Wheels started in 1970, while the Rev. James Tripp was our pastor. During that decade of the 1970’s, a Young Men’s Choir was formed, a Book Store Mission Group was organized, and Montessori School was tried. The Youth Coffee House became the Carpenter’s House as an early effort to reach out to the community at large, but the old parsonage, after several iterations of use, was finally demolished to make way for the Fellowship Hall.
Work on the Fellowship Hall, begun in 1975--the culmination of the mid-Century building boom at RUMC. The Hall contained church offices as well as a church library and meeting room. It had a fully modern kitchen, and it was the hub for most of the social activities of the church. The Hall, named after long-time church supporter William I. Crichton, Sr. It almost doubled the square footage of the church complex on the corner of U. S. 301 South and Riverview Drive—our current location. Crichton Fellowship Hall was dedicated in November, 1977.
By 1986, our sixth sanctuary, north of the Alafia River, served 150 families in a modern building. Our campus included three education buildings, a fellowship hall with church offices and a full kitchen,and a parsonage. By 1986, over 60 pastors had served as our church’s spiritual leader.
The church continued strong throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. Riverview Meals on Wheels provided hot meals delivered to seniors five days a week, and there were programs like the SHARE food co-op, weekly distribution of government commodities, health fairs, blood drives, Wednesday Night bible studies and youth and children activities. New colored windows were installed to the sanctuary in 1980. Several Eagle (Boy Scouts) and Gold Star (Girl Scout) projects added a gazebo to the grounds, provided much needed sidewalks, created a retaining wall to the parking lot, and added a firepit/picnic area. For many years, the United Methodist Men sold Christmas Trees from the backlot, and they held an annual auction—activities that netted the church much needed revenue. Every Halloween, the Youth still run a Pumpkin Patch to generate revenue for their activities throughout the year—including scholarships to summer church camp.
Our Recent History
By 2007, the Riverview Meals on Wheels program was showing severe signs of age. Many of its volunteers had passed, or they were too old themselves to continue the program. And the client base for that program had shrunk to less than 20 shut ins. So, Ms. Campbell quietly closed down the program. However, many in our congregation wanted to continue with some kind of community outreach, and the disbanded Meals on Wheels program still had a surplus of about $10,000. With these remaining funds, three United Methodist Women—Claire Bryington, Linda Bauer, and Muriel Harris—began RESTORE.
RESTORE was designed as a combination Food Bank (distributing USDA and other donated food) and Thrift Shop (mainly selling used clothing). The abandoned Savidge building was converted into a two-room Thrift Shop, and Classrooms 1 and 2 in the Merle Building were rebuilt into the Food Pantry. Eventually, Clare and her builder husband, Jim Bryington, took over the management of RESTORE. By 2014, the Bryingtons passed the management torch to Karen and Bill Moore and Carol and Tracy Whidden. Today’s RESTORE is run by a new generation including Dawn Parks, Jan Crichton, Chris Davidson, and Debbie Burt. RESTORE grocery distribution is currently open Tuesday and Thursday, and our operation distributes food to 160-180 needy families every week.
Beginning in 2012, the RUMC welcomed an Hispanic congregation onto our campus. This congregation, led by a lay pastor, Norma Encarnacion, remains small but mighty. They support a prayer ministry, and they tutor classes in English as a Second Language and GED testing—with the help of a partnership with ECHO South County.
In 2017, RUMC partnered with Metropolitan Ministries to distribute hot lunches to local folks in need of assistance. Originally envisioned as a Saturday operation, our Metro Ministry feeding program has moved to Tuesday morning and operates in conjunction with our Tuesday morning RESTORE grocery distribution. During the pandemic of 2020, Metro Ministry is providing bag lunches for take-out in compliance with “social distancing” requirements. Connie Mosley manages our Metropolitan Ministries partnership.
Today, in 2020, our congregation has shrunk to about half the size of our 1986 peak membership. We are still utilizing essentially the same aging buildings that existed on our campus 34 years ago. Like many small to medium sized Methodist churches throughout Florida, we struggle to maintain our mission and relevancy in the face of the growing number of unchurched Floridians.
We have welcomed a Haitian Seventh Day Adventist congregation to use our facilities on Saturdays. We continue to support “Wonderful Wednesday” potlucks, Bible study, and children and youth activities. We have an active Boy Scout troop, and we provide facilities for AA meetings and for a women’s choral organization. Before stoppage by the pandemic, our current pastor, the Rev. Louis Telcy, had begun a few weekly “Fresh Expression” worship opportunities at RV parks and senior care facilities in our neighborhood.
We look forward to restarting a full slate of activities in the Fall of 2020 (pandemic permitting), and to celebrating 175 years of serving the Riverview community in 2021.