Welcome to the First United Methodist Church
of Port St. Joe
The history of the Methodist church in Port St. Joe, Florida is intertwined with the history of the town itself. Old St. Joseph was founded in 1829 and soon thereafter a Methodist church was established. Both the town and the Methodist church grew during the next decade and in 1838 Old St. Joseph was chosen to hold Florida’s first Constitution Convention. The Methodist church played an important role in this convention with many of the meetings taking place at the Methodist church and with the Rev. Peter William Gautier, pastor of the Methodist church, serving as chaplain of the convention.
But then hard times fell on the church and community. In 1841 the Yellow Plague decimated the town of Old St. Joseph. This horrendous outbreak of yellow fever claimed seventy-five percent of the towns population including the lives of two of the pastors of the Methodist church. A few years later a devastating hurricane came ashore destroying virtually every building in town with a six-foot wall of water. Many thought Old St. Joseph would never rebound.
But the town did not lose heart. One writer upon viewing the ruins of the old city stated, “St. Joseph in ruins is more dear to my heart than any spot of more worldly grandeur so peaceful, so healthful, it seemed as if its very repose led me nearer to my God, so free from conventionalities and restraints, so gloriously stamped by the finger of God.”
In 1913, the new city of Port St. Joe was established, and just like the city, the Methodist church rose again. Beginning first as a Sunday school class, the congregation then reestablished itself as a church under the leadership of Rev. Charles Middlebrooks. During this time the church met in the historic Port Inn of Port St. Joe, until a small wooden church was erected on the corner of 7th Street and Long Avenue. Most of the congregations of other denominations shared this space with the Methodist church until their own spaces were constructed. Over the next hundred years, the church continued to grow and became known at First United Methodist Church of Port St. Joe. The current sanctuary situated between the palms and the pines on St. Joseph Bay was completed in 1950.
Then on October 10, 2018 Hurricane Michael, the strongest hurricane to ever hit the panhandle of Florida, slammed into Port St. Joe and the surrounding communities, leaving a path of destruction and forever impacting the footprint of Port St. Joe and First United Methodist Church of Port St. Joe. The massive storm-surge and near category 5 level winds of Hurricane Michael caused widespread damage to many of the congregant’s homes and businesses, severely damaged all of the church’s buildings, and completely destroyed the neighboring parsonage.
Port St. Joe and the Methodist church have experienced this pain and struggle before. But Psalm 46 reminds us that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. At the city-wide worship service on the Sunday following Hurricane Michael, Dr. Geoffrey Lentz, the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church, in an impassioned devotion, encouraged everyone in Port St. Joe to take one small step forward for yourself and your family and another small step forward for your neighbors and your community every day.
Together, as a church and as a community, Port St. Joe will rise again.