Church History

In 1859 Utopia was made a mission of the Rio Grande Conference, which had been established in 1858 by the General Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.  In the aftermath of the Civil War, about 1873, many staunch Methodists located here, among them the Harpers, Simpsons, Jones, and also George Barker, who was credited with naming the town “Utopia.”

In 1879, Irvin Jones deeded land in Utopia for a church and in 1888, Robert Kincheloe added to that land. In “History of the Utopia Church,” the late W.H. Fisher wrote, “The Church was very likely organized by Andrew Jackson Potter, preacher and Indian fighter.”  After Potter was moved further into the frontier, the work in the Sabinal Canyon was taken up by H. G. Horton. He preached monthly in the canyon on the long double gallery of the Bob Kincheloe home.

Potter, assisted by J.A.J. Smith, held the first camp meeting in the Sabinal Canyon in 1868.  Through the 1880’s many camp meetings were held in the Sabinal Canyon and were widely known throughout the area.  Families came as far as forty miles, camping on the grounds in covered wagons and tents. Many early preachers of the Methodist church would be in attendance and would take turns preaching under a large brush arbor, holding five services a day.

In 1892, the present church was constructed. One thousand dollars was raised for lumber and the labor was donated by the church members.  The total cost came to around $3000. The construction was under the direction of Mr. Croft, who built many of the early day structures in Utopia.  Some of the leaders of the project were J.E. (Lige) Crane, Fred Smith, and Albert Harper.  George Harper cut all of the frames for the Gothic-style windows and the round windows in the gables.

Circa 1940's

For many years, the sanctuary had to serve for Sunday school, with classes gathered in groups.  Later, a tabernacle was built which was used in the summer.  George Barker was an early Sunday School Superintendent.  On Sunday and Wednesday nights folks in town could see the light from his lantern swinging down the road as he walked to church.

                                                                                                                                              Original Parsonage                                                                                                                                                                                                        The first educational building was completed in 1947 under the pastorate of Philip Dibrell.  The next major remodeling was done in 1956-57 during the ministry of Earl Slade.  The walls of the sanctuary were covered with sheetrock and paneled at the lower area.  New lighting was installed and new pews and pulpit purchased.

In the 1950s a fellowship hall was added on the south of the educational building.  For years, this room served as the only large assembly place in the entire town of Utopia.  Birthday parties, Garden Club, senior proms, and Lions’ Club all met here.

A major event of the 60’s was “Camp Meeting 1966,” commemorating the 200th anniversary of Methodism in America.  Keynote speaker was Rev. Kermit Long of Nashville, and Rev. Dick Freeman of Cameron was song leader.  A twenty mile trail ride, including horseback riders, wagons and buggies was headed up by Billy Fisher.  About 275 folks camped out at Utopia Community Park, and attendance at the meetings reached 500 people.  The grandstands at Utopia Park were used for five preaching services, with a platform for the speakers in the middle of the lighted arena.

Building projects continued, as in the early 1960s, under the pastorate of Cliff Edge, an addition was built which added classrooms to the east of the original educational building. In 1981, a modern brick parsonage was completed, and during the ministry of Gene Moore in the mid 1980s, still another large wing was added to the south and east of the fellowship hall.  In the sanctuary, the large rugged cross and mesquite communion table, both handcrafted by Dave Garrison, were added in 1978.

The first stained glass window, depicting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, is a signed work of art given by Mr. and Mrs. C.C. Kelley in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Harper.  The signature reads “Deberle ’54.”  Other windows in the sanctuary were given in 1961 in memory of Rev. O.A. Fisher and his wife by Mr. and Mrs. John Wheeler and the Sterling Wheeler family of San Antonio.

The circular window in the east wall was given in memory of Gladys Jones by her husband, Frank W. Jones.  Other windows were given in 1978 in memory of J.V. Porter and C.F. Porter; Paul Redden and Clyde Pink and honoring Katharine Redden and Lois Pink; also windows in memory of Ella Fisher Harper; Elizabeth Fisher Wentworth; and Mattie and W.H. Fisher.

The Mary Frank and Paul Davis Scholarship Fund was established in the 1970s with an endowment given by Ferrell and Polly Davis and Paul, Jr. and Betty Davis in honor of their parents. 

Rev. Laura Smith Adam, the first woman pastor to serve in our community, came in 1989.  Two years later she initiated “Face-Lift ’91,” a major repair and improvement project which prepared us for the 100th anniversary of our church building in 1992.

A book length history of the church was published, thanks to the many years of research, careful recordkeeping and talented writing of Annalee Burns. The centennial event was celebrated in September, 1992, with preaching, singing, fellowship, and food.  An enjoyable event for the younger members was the filling of a “time capsule.”  The monument was built of native rock brought in by members of the congregation and artistically constructed by Skeet and Melba Birkner.  The capsule is to be opened in 2092.

The cedar pier and beam church foundation needed strengthening in 2002, and the result was a major renovation of the sanctuary. Under the direction of project manager Roger Swift, the building was raised five feet off the ground, and later lowered onto a new foundation.  Much of the interior of the church was restored to its original appearance, and the entire community supported this ambitious endeavor.

An important component of worship at Utopia UMC is the music program, and we have been blessed with talented musicians and choir members who willingly share their gifts.  Lucille Matthews, granddaughter of 1883-84 minister O.A. Fisher, began playing the piano when she was just a girl. Until the 1970s, she played piano and organ for church, school, and community events.  Lucille would call people into the sanctuary with “The Church In The Wildwood” played on the chimes.

In the early 1970s, Lucille’s young cousin, Diane Causey, began accompanying her at the piano.  In the late 70’s Elinor Feland assumed Lucille’s duties at the organ, and she blessed us with beautiful music for 30 years. Today, Diane Causey, Barbara Jordan and Joy Matthews Davenport share duties on the piano and Joan Clark directs the choir. Diane also heads up the “Hallelujah Gang” church band which plays on Feast and Fellowship Sundays.

Today, we are led by Pastor Chad Chamness and wife Christine. We enjoy fifth Sunday sing-a-longs with surrounding churches, men’s prayer breakfasts, and women’s Bible studies.  Children participate in Children’s Church during the worship service, and money for various missions is raised with monthly “noisy” offerings. The prayer chain gives immediate notice of needs in the church family and community so that we can reach out to others in ministry.

Pastor Chad, Christine, and members of Utopia United Methodist Church walk the road of faith together, reaching out to others, encouraging one another, praying for one another.  In this intentional community of faith, we join in worship, work, prayer and outreach to share Christ’s love and compassion for this world.