Eleven people gathered in a Manchester home in 1839 to start one of the fledgling community's first churches. That event — the founding of the Manchester United Methodist Church — will be celebrated Sunday by its current 154 members and the public during a special 170th anniversary service, festival and pig roast. All events are at the church, 501 Ann Arbor Road.
Activities begin with 9 a.m. Sunday School classes, followed by a 10:30 a.m. worship service featuring music from the "Manchester Brass Band." The Rev. Larry Wik, the church's pastor for the past four years, will arrive from the parsonage in a horse-drawn carriage, much like the original pastor, George Bradley, might have arrived at that first meeting.
Festivities, including a petting zoo, old-fashioned children's games, pony rides and face painting, will begin after the services. The pig roast and pot-luck meal will start at 1 p.m. All events are free, but goodwill donations are welcome, Wik said.
"We want to celebrate each other, our community and the gifts and blessings we've received from the church members who've gone before us," Wik said.
Tours of the former church building at the corner of Main and Washington streets in downtown Manchester also will be conducted. The building, vacated by the church when it moved to its current building in 1971, now houses a doctor's office.
"We're all really excited about this event," said Sandy Smith, a 30-year parishioner. "Some of our former pastors are coming back, and we're putting together lots of pictures. It's going to be really fun."
The event also will give people a glimpse into the future of the church, including a $400,000 building project slated to begin next spring that will increase space and make the church more accessible to elderly and physically challenged members and visitors, Wik said.
The project will add space to the front of the church and accommodate room for a lounge, more classrooms, restroom improvements and an elevator. Approximately $12,000 needs to be raised by the end of the year to allow construction to begin, Wik said.
"We're going to get a lot out of this small project," he said. "It will make our church much more accessible to everyone. We will have plans available and things marked off somehow so people can visualize what it will be like."
The Manchester United Methodist Church is a vibrant congregation of people of all ages, Wik said. Members do caroling at Christmas, conduct bottle drives for Manchester Family Services, donate to the Community Resource Center food pantry and make cookies and shawls for senior citizens and others.
"I like the closeness of the church," said Sandy King, church secretary. "We are a family. People are warm and caring, and they care about each other."
Sunday's celebration will be a primer for the church's 175th anniversary in five years, Wik said. Members are working on gathering as much history as they can to present then and hope to hear and learn from people at Sunday's festivities, he said.