Beethoven and The Who, sermons and confessions, sorrow and joy; to these walls that have seen so much, it’s just another day.
I come here to the concert hall at MAC for inspiration and strength. I sit in the pews of the “Old Methodist Church” surrounded by cool air that smells like history and wonder at what has transpired within these walls. For me, it’s been just shy of 4 years since I became a part of the story these walls could tell; perhaps just a short sentence in almost 150 years’ worth of stories. And though I am humbled to be even a small part of the story, I still wonder about the other stories these walls could tell.
The story of the “Old Methodist Church” in Monroe, formerly located in what is currently the centerpiece building of the Monroe Arts Center, begins long before the current structure was built, but the story of this building starts in 1869 when construction began on the church and the parsonage located adjacent to the church.
In February, 1872 the congregation began to hold services in the basement of the new church as that section was complete enough for people to gather, the upper portions of the building would take over 20 years to complete. In December, 1886, Reverend Charles Kellerman and his wife moved into the parsonage, becoming the first family to inhabit the residence described at the time as “one of the most complete, comfortable and elegant dwellings in the city.”
Although Reverend Kellerman seemed to be well respected and was able to raise the funds necessary to complete both structures, nothing is written as to what kind of man he really was. Was he a kind man with whom congregants shared their struggles or was he a fire and brim stone man that kept his congregation strictly towing the line? Maybe a little of both? At this point only those walls could tell us for sure.
Weddings, funerals, tears, hope, song… these walls have seen it all. In May of 1886 “Miss Minnie McCracken was engaged as the first soprano in Church choir.” As a prominent member of the church choir, I wonder what Miss Minnie would think of some of the concerts that MAC presents now, especially the rock concerts? I suspect she would have thought us a bit less than pious and might have been a little less than impressed with our musical selections to be honest.
When the building finally came into full use the Board of Trustees wrote to a major donor, “We wish also to state that in beauty and durability of finish it exceeds our most hopeful anticipation. We also hope an¬d pray the edifice thus completed may stand for generations…” And so it has stood, in beauty and durability, for generations.
A few months into the pandemic and MAC’s 20-month closure, I sat on the edge of our stage as I have done many times over the last 2 years seeking solace or guidance, or whatever the walls might have to offer. I was thinking about the history the building had seen pass by over the last 153 years and wondered how the Spanish Flu was handled by the Old Methodist Church. Did they close, as did many churches at the time? Were they an extension of the hospital, becoming a medical facility and housing patients within its walls? And what of the Church Elder, what decisions did he have to make to keep his congregation safe? What would he think of the decisions that we have made to keep our community safe? And I have to wonder how history will judge the decisions we’ve made here in this time.
It seems, fingers crossed and knock on wood, that the end of the pandemic may be in sight. I am at this point afraid to hope too much, but the signs are all there. I wonder how we will settle into our new landscape because if only one thing is true, it’s that we can never go back. Some of that will be for the best and some of that will be difficult, but I do hope that we can continue to grow in beauty and durability, for generations to come.
Kathy Hennessy, MAC Executive Director