CHOCTAW — In August 1892, a small group of pioneers chartered the Methodist Episcopal Church in an area known as Choctaw City in Indian Territory.
A circuit preacher already leading a congregation in Tecumseh was assigned to shepherd the newly formed church nearby.
Eventually the new church became known as Choctaw United Methodist Church, and it is celebrating its 120th anniversary this month.
Shirley McConnell and Sharon Brown, members of the church's history preservation committee, said the church has held several special activities in the past year leading up to two services that will culminate the church's anniversary celebration.
The longtime members said the church's history and a special video will be presented at services on Aug. 12. McConnell said the Rev. Robert Hayes Jr., bishop of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference, will be guest preacher at services Aug. 19, and an anniversary dinner will be held after the second service.
McConnell, 76, and Brown, 72, said the church began as the first and only religious center in the Choctaw City area. They said it is now known for the strong friendships and relationships that have developed among church members and the community at large.
Afton Morton, 84, who has been a member of the church since 1930, said many things have changed over the years, but the church's loving, family atmosphere has remained the same.
The Rev. Andy James, whom Hayes appointed to serve the church in June, said loving relationships is chief among the reasons many church members continue to worship at Choctaw United Methodist, 1200 N Choctaw Road. He said the church has an average Sunday attendance of about 250.
“I asked members what they loved most about the church, and without being prompted, they said, ‘The people,'” James said. “What I took from that is this is a congregation that values its relationships. It's not the building. It's not the program. It's the people.”
McConnell, who has been attending the church since 1936, said those early-day Methodists met in homes, barns and brush arbors until 1893 when the church bought property at First and Clark streets in Choctaw. The first church building was constructed in 1894.