I’m really pleased to see the work being done on exterior and bell tower of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church on Broadway. This article will serve only as an introduction to its 126-year history with the rest of the story coming soon. In truth, St. Luke’s genesis actually occurred 180 years ago and few in town probably know that it’s actually the “new” Methodist church in town.
During most of the 18th century, the two “orthodox” denominations in New Hampshire were the Congregational and Presbyterian churches, about every town supporting either one or the other with its tax dollars. In the years immediately after the Revolutionary War, things began to change; the Methodists began to invade the state and soon they were holding services in Londonderry, Windham, Chester, Auburn and Sandown. To most tradionalists, the Methodists were a little frightening. Their preaching and worship services were enthusiastic and emotional, not staid and introspective like the orthodox kirks, their hymn singing was loud and spirit-filled. And because these followers of John Wesley actively proselytized from other denominations, the Methodist grew at an amazing rate.
In the summer of 1832, thousands attended Methodist camp meetings in Auburn. These revival meetings featured protracted preaching that went on non-stop for days, whipping the crowd into a spiritual frenzy. Soon afterward, a few followers of Methodism in Derry began worshiping in each others homes. By August 1834, their numbers had grown to 15 and they called the Rev. Philo Brownson as their first pastor. He rode a circuit, preaching also in Londonderry and Windham. By 1835, the Derry membership had swelled to 54. For the first two years, they worshiped in a small shop on the site of today’s BP garage by the Danforth traffic circle.
In December 1835, it was decided that it was the time to build their own church home. A 2-acre lot was bought on Nesmith Street for $150. To raise money to built the chapel the society sold $50 shares to anyone who would invest in their dream. This small, one-story church with simple stained-glass windows was completed by the summer of 1836 at a cost of $2,106.15