KINGMAN – The rich history of Kingman’s St. John’s United Methodist Church will be celebrated during the month of November. It’s the 135th anniversary for a church founded in 1888.

“This church was the first church in Mohave County,’’ said Pastor Amy Kalm. “It’s just great to really be able to be part of this celebration with this community.”

Kalm has been with the church only since July, but its longtime parishioners have many yarns to spin.

“The very first memories of my childhood are going to Sunday school in the basements of what used to be the Methodist Church,’’ said Kingman contractor Toby Orr, who was five years old when he began attending 68 years ago in 1955. “Good ole Mrs. Morgan (Margaret) was an institution, and only the old timers will remember her, she was our Sunday school teacher.”

Involvement began in 1950 for George Cisney, son of the late Mohave County Sheriff (1963-72)Floyd Cisney, when the church was still in downtown Kingman.

“I started attending St. John’s when I was about 10 or 11 years old,” Cisney recalled. “My best friends were raised right across the street from the 5th and Spring church. They were the Householders and they had the Happy Corner Kindergarten and as good friends of theirs I started going to church with them.”

A famous Hollywood couple was married there more than a decade before Cisney or Orr set foot in the church formerly located downtown. During a break in the filming of “Gone With the Wind”, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard traveled to Kingman and were married in a March 29, 1939 ceremony officiated by the Reverand Kenneth Engle at what was then known as the First Methodist Episcopal Church.

Dedicated clergy have served the church and community over time.

Cisney said he particularly enjoyed Pastors Jim Bussey and Michael Bryant, and that he and his wife of 64 years, Ruth, enjoyed social and spiritual interaction with both pastors and their wives.

?“My favorite spiritual mentor of all time was Dr. Daniels, the Reverand Paul Daniels,” Orr reminisced. “He had a way to connect with people. He actually had a PHD in theology, but he was very down to earth and had a sense of humor and he would intersperse humor with his sermons.”

“I was a young guy trying to become established and trying to gain credibility in the community and being in the Methodist Church was a perfect way to do that because most of the pillars of the community were members,” Orr said. 

Cisney, a church lay leader for 20 years, remembers once giving the Christmas Eve sermon when the Pastor at the time was out of town with family for the holiday in the late 1980’s.

“I figured we’d probably be lucky if there’s maybe 50-60 people that attend this this service,” Cisney recalled. “As I stepped out toward the lectern I looked out in the audience and there wasn’t an empty seat in the entire building.” 

Orr said parking became tight in the mid-to-late 1980’s and that leaders started thinking about opening a satellite church as Kingman began stretching from the downtown to the Hilltop.

Cisney said Leonard and Grace Neal were interested in donating land for the Church and that Leonard and Pastor Bussey drove out for a look at some Neal property that was too far north in the area of the present day Cerbat Elementary school. They instead visited the Kino Avenue property that continues to serve as the church campus.

“I don’t know why but for some reason Jim Bussey had that feeling that that was the place,” Cisney said. “It was liked God spoke to him and said ‘Here It Is.'”

A fundraising drive for the construction campaign was supplemented when Mohave County purchased the downtown church property that later served as headquarters for the Health Department. The buildings are currently occupied by the county Public Defender’s Office and Indigent Legal Services.

Cisney said Divine Intervention for the Kino campus occurred again when Church Councilor Krystal Burge indicated they were still short by $200,000-$300,000 in the late 1980’s. “Lo and behold that evening one of my other friends called and said that we had a donation from a little old lady (Harriet Johnson) that had passed away and left all the money that we needed.”

The late Wilbur Arthur (Arthur’s Sales and Service) had the distinction of possibly being the only person who at the age of 7 was present for the downtown church groundbreaking in 1916 or 17 and also attended the Kino groundbreaking more than 70 years later.

Orr said his construction company built at cost the Church that opened on Kino in 1991 and bustles to this day with a variety of worship service options, bible study sessions, choir practice and much more. The Grace Neal preschool operates on site as do classrooms and meeting space used by parishioners and the community alike. 

The property serves as a polling place on election days and recently hosted the annual Pumpkin Patch, a seasonal fundraising event.

?`”This church really does a lot to try to be a part of the community in ways that show compassion and love for our fellow man, ” Pastor Kalm said. “Welcoming, learning and working for 135 years. That is really what this church has been about since 1888.”

The late?? “Aunt Esther” Meier was a fixture at the church for decades after relocating to Kingman from North Dakota in 1939. Her descendant, Lorena Meier, arrived in Kingman 50 years later and began playing piano at services within her first month here.

Meier was often accompanied by Janet Williams, who played organ at the church for decades before retiring a couple of years ago and relocating to Virginia.

“We played together for 30 years,” Meier said.

“It was a joy,” said Williams.

Highly accomplished recording artist Chris Commisso brings top talent to Church music production.

“Chris has been a joy and a pleasure and oftentimes we play together. We’ll get both pianos out there,” Meier said. “He doesn’t read a note of music. Everything he plays is by ear.”

The 135-year celebration begins with a Nov. 2 Chamber of Commerce event at the Church at 5:30 p.m. 135 years of serving events are scheduled on the 10th and 11th, leading to larger celebrations on the 18th and 19th.

See the church website (www.stjohnsumc.com) or call (928-692-8828) for more information.

“Everybody is welcome to come to our church to be a member or just attend,” Cisney said. “So we invite all people and hope that the celebration and the St. John’s experience will cause them to want to return.”

Dave Hawkins