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Methodists celebrate 150 years in Hudson

The Rev. Laurence Goebel says Hudson United Methodist Church was described to him as a "get-up-and-go church" when he arrived here as co-pastor two years ago.

The whirl of services, meetings, classes and activities at the church each week would attest to that.

Sunday mornings bring three worship services followed by social hours, along with Sunday school classes for people of all ages and a service at neighboring Christian Community Home.

Wednesday mornings, parishioners distribute bread and produce in the church parking lot and then gather for fellowship and coffee in the church kitchen. At 4 p.m., middle school students arrive for confirmation classes. Volunteers later serve supper to the youth of the church prior to their weekly gathering at 7 p.m.

Families with young children also are invited to dine and then attend a special worship service geared to them. In other parts of the building, the senior choir and a bell choir are practicing, and an adult Bible study is being held.

Brownies, Boy Scouts and lunch groups meet at the church other days of the week.

"Everywhere you look, there's something going on," says Mary Ellen Paulson, a lifelong church member.

The early years

The church has been getting up and going for 150 years now.

It will mark the anniversary with special Heritage Celebration services at 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 30.

According to church records, the Hudson Methodist Episcopal Church received its official charter from the Wisconsin Conference of Methodists in October of 1855. The church was formed with 50 charter members.

The Wisconsin Conference is said to have sent missionaries from Green Bay to visit the isolated cabins of white settlers in the St. Croix River valley in the 1840s.

The Rev. Lemuel Nobles, in 1847, was the first Methodist minister to preach a sermon in Hudson, then known as Willow River, according to "A Review of the Life and Times of Hudson Methodist Church," a booklet printed in 1951.

Nobles was a native of New York who traveled to Michigan in the 1830s, where he became a preacher. He came to Stillwater with his large family in 1847 and then settled in Hudson for four years, according to church records.

The Methodist Church of the 1850s was much more rigid in its views than the church of today.

Church members were expected to faithfully attend religious classes.

"It was the duty of the class leader to see each person in his class at least once a week to inquire into the state of his soul and to advise, reprove, comfort or exhort as occasion required," the Review says. "...One of the regular leaders' meeting questions was, Are there any who have walked disorderly and refused to be reproved?"

In 1861, a church member was put on trial for failure to pay a debt and expelled from the church. Out of sympathy for him, 28 fellow members quit the church and started a second Methodist church in Hudson.

"It must have been the younger people who left because they took the children with them," the church history reports. "The flourishing Sunday school of 100 was reduced to 15."

The dissenters eventually reconciled with the main church and were reinstated in 1864-65, the Review says. It adds, "It is curious to note that this schism began and ended with the Civil War."

Church building

The first church building was located at the corner of Third and Elm streets. Ammah Andrews built it in the summer of 1856 at a cost of $1,710.

Andrews was a prolific builder of early Hudson, responsible for many of the Greek revival houses still standing in the older part of town. In 1866, assisted by his twin brother, Amasa, he built First Baptist Church, now the oldest public structure in Hudson.

The Methodist church had the tallest steeple in Hudson until it was toppled by a windstorm in August of 1857. The falling steeple collapsed the roof, as well, and broke nearly every pew in the sanctuary below.

The cost of repairing the church and extortionary interest rates that accompanied the Panic of 1857 put the congregation in deep debt. It owed $5,139 when a meeting of the male members was held in March 1859 to consider selling the building to satisfy the debt.

They decided against selling the church, however, and instead embarked on fund-raising campaign.

"These sturdy pioneers held fast," the church history reports. "In August 1863 we find the statement: 'The church was not sold. We still hold it and propose to hold it forever by God's help. We have reduced the debt to $785.'"

By 1875, the church had prospered to the point where it could enlarge and remodel its sanctuary.

"The work of rebuilding the church has been a vast one, nearly, if not quite equal to the erection of an entirely new building," the Hudson Star & Times reported. "It has been raised, lengthened, a new roof put on, veneered with brick, newly painted and frescoed inside, re-seated, cushioned and carpeted. It is in fact, a new structure and is large, well-proportioned and finely finished and furnished, the most expensive, commodius and attractive church edifice in the St. Croix Valley."

Church activities of the day included choir concerts with Professor Thomas Hughes directing, ice cream socials, pound festivals, spelling matches (Honorable John Comstock acted as umpire. Colonel Bashford put out the words), temperance lectures, camp meetings, Men's Club suppers, and boat rides and picnics on the St. Croix River.

"Over the years, the church at Third and Elm replaced four furnaces, added a new kitchen and dining room in 1904, installed electric wiring in 1906, enlarged the annex in 1916, added a new chimney in 1923, modernized the kitchen in 1944, repaired fire damage in 1946, and hand-shoveled dirt to enlarge the basement for a nursery in 1955," one church history says.

By 1962, the congregation had outgrown its building at Third and Elm and undertook construction of the present church at 1401 Laurel Ave.

The new church was built on 3.43 acres donated by Harry and Jean Stewart in memory of the former owners of the land - Charles, Genevieve and Willis Dowling.

The property was still considered to be in the country when the church was consecrated on Jan. 20, 1963. The Rev. Robert W. Sachtjen was pastor at the time.

Stained glass windows from the old church were incorporated in the new sanctuary. The building, constructed at a cost of $89,900, also had a kitchen and fellowship hall.

The present church has twice been expanded.

In 1972, classrooms, offices, a workroom, a larger narthex and a nursery were added. In 1986, the fellowship hall was enlarged and more classrooms, a choir room and a new kitchen were added. A new altar was added to the sanctuary and the pews were turned to face it.

The bell from the old church was hung from a tower outside the new church in 1974.

The most recent addition to the church property was the 1997 purchase of the residence immediately to the east on Laurel Avenue. It is used for youth activities.

The church today

Pastors Laurence and Joan Goebel say the United Methodist Church of today attempts to be inclusive of people of "different understandings" and middle-of-the-road politically.

"The United Methodist Church is a centrist church," Laurence Goebel says. "There are radical groups (on the) left and radical groups (on the) right, and this is a church that's at the center. That's where it needs to be."

The goal of the church, he says, is to have "open hearts, open minds and open doors."

Joan Goebel says the welcoming nature of Hudson United Methodist is one of its strengths.

"A lot of churches think they are welcoming," she says. "If you are open to visitors and they are coming back, then you can tell that you really are welcoming."

The local church and United Methodists as a whole are also known for their outreach, according to Laurence Goebel.

Church members like Wayne Sprecher and Bob and Harriet Enloe have donated hundreds of hours of their time doing carpentry work with Volunteers in Mission, he says. They and others also build homes for low-income working families through Habitat for Humanity.

The local church sponsors a sister church in Krasnador, Russia, contributing $3,000 toward the pastor's annual salary, along with other special offerings throughout the year.

The church sponsored construction of Christian Community Home (Hudson's only nursing home) in 1981 and remains involved in its operation. The WinterGreen apartments were added to the senior-housing campus in 1986, and the Pine Ridge assisted-living apartments were added in 1993.

"Many churches say, hey, we're here, come on in. We say, come on in. We're going to send you back out," Laurence Goebel, a 37-year veteran of pastoral ministry, says.

The church's music program also has been a source of pride over the years. Church choirs and bell ringers toured European countries five times in the 1980s and '90s.

At latest count, the church membership - including all family members - was 698.

The Goebels say they have baptized 39 babies since arriving here in July 2003.

"That means we have a lot of young families coming in," notes Laurence Goebel.

The pastors report that the 8 and 9:30 a.m. Sunday services are traditional worship services. They describe the 11 a.m. service as contemporary, with more singing and less liturgy.

Randy Hanson can be reached at

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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