The historic Chapel and Church Cemetery serve as a reminder of Manchester United Methodist Church’s rich and long history as one of the oldest congregations in the St. Louis area. Methodist services were held in private homes as early as 1798. Prior to the Louisiana Purchase, Catholicism was the official religion of this area, and Methodist services had to be held in secret – ministers had to slip across the Mississippi River at night.
John Ball, for whom the city of Ballwin is named, provided the first permanent place of worship for area Methodists. He purchased James Neal’s old wool carding machine house in Manchester, added seats and a balcony, and donated it to the Methodists in 1826. In 1837, a regular frame building church was built on Woods Mill Road. No further information about this first Chapel has been located. In 1856, when a larger building was needed, the present brick Chapel was constructed at a cost of $6,389. It had one large room on the main floor and was heated by a pot-belly stove. The original plans show two front doors, one for men and one for women. However, an early photo shows only one door. The basement had a dirt floor, and behind the Chapel were two outhouses and a horse shed. During the early 1900’s, the congregation often struggled to keep the church from closing. But in the late 1950’s, a population boom had started in West St. Louis County and a membership boom had started at Manchester Methodist.
In 1959, the Chapel was renovated and refurbished to accommodate the growing congregation. An ambitious expansion program was undertaken during the 1960’s. In 1965, a new education wing was attached to the rear of the chapel, with new doors on either side of the alter area being added to provide access to the new education wing. In 1969, both a new 550-seat Sanctuary and new office space were built, with the new office space being located between the new Sanctuary and the education wing. In 1982, the original chapel was included in the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1984, another expansion program was undertaken. The 1969 Sanctuary was enlarged, space was added for offices and for the youth and music programs, and the 1965 education wing was renovated.
The Chapel was renovated again in 1993, with the roof and front steps being restored to a more original look. Chimneys which were not original were removed, and the cupola was renovated with a new roof and finial. The congregation had outgrown its Sanctuary and Sunday School space by the mid 1990’s, and ground was broken on February 16, 1997 for a new 1200-seat Sanctuary, and new space for the education and music programs. The 1969 Sanctuary was converted into a new Fellowship Hall, complete with a new kitchen. The first service in the new Sanctuary was December 20, 1998, 200 years after the first members of the congregation began holding services in their homes. The new Sanctuary was consecrated and the cornerstone dedicated on February 14, 1999.
Many thought that the little church on Woods Mill Road was not in a good location for growth, but history has proven otherwise. Manchester United Methodist now has over 3,000 members, is the largest United Methodist Church in the state of Missouri, and is among the top 50 largest United Methodist Churches in the United States.
In 2017, a sign was installed by the Heritage Brook, which runs alongside the Chapel, to commemorate the church’s historical milestones. To learn more about Manchester UMC’s extensive history, call our office at 636.394.7506 and ask to speak to someone on the Historical Committee, one of our many ministries.