Methodists from the Academy Church and those who worshiped at Mississippi School united to build the first church in Clovis in 1893. It is believed that the church was the first building erected west of Fulton (now Clovis Ave).
A circuit rider from the Visalia District Millerton Circuit served Methodists at Dry Creek (Academy) and those at the 1869 Mississippi School (quarter mile north of Little Dry Creek between Behymer and Perrin). Community gatherings and church services were often held in schools and that practice continues today.
Circuit riders were not always ordained ministers but were required to deliver sermons, obey the rules of the Church, and have a horse for transportation. Church families would provide them lodging and food during their visit.
The Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church South was formed at Academy in 1865. Rev. Joel Hedgpeth was appointed pastor the same year. He was described as a good pastor and a good friend. Rev. Hedgpeth was cross-eyed and young worshipers were always attentive as it was difficult to know who he was looking at.
He became the first pastor of the Clovis church and served from 1893-1897. He was a gentle man. At one time, he was admonished for not preaching “fire and brimstone”. He responded that he believed preaching love was the true message. Poems were often part of his sermons.
John Greenup Simpson and family arrived in the Dry Creek area in 1852 and eventually owned over 7,000 acres of range land. He and his wife Sarah donated land for the Academy Church (168/Tollhouse Rd. and N. Madsen Ave), a parsonage and cemetery (Mendocino Ave). A simple one room wooden church was erected in 1868. The church continues to celebrate liturgical services and community gatherings under the jurisdiction of the Clovis United Methodist Church.
In 1893, John W. Potter and James Cate purchased four lots ($10 each) at southwest corner of Fifth and Woodworth. That building was eventually destroyed by fire in 1900 (?). It was quickly replaced and expanded in 1908.
A larger church and Sunday school annex was built in 1920. The congregation moved to its present location on 1726 Pollasky in 1963. The Valley Community Church of God now worships at the former location.
The Clovis Presbyterian Church built 1912 at the Northwest corner of DeWitt and Fifth St, sold their building to the Clovis Masonic Lodge in 1930. The Presbyterian Church had ceased services there many years prior to the sale. Many Presbyterians joined the Methodists during that time.
A service of dedication was held on June 13, 1948. Dedication of the church organ and carillon (bells) were in memory two Clovis Gold Star Heroes of WW II: Warren Arbuckle and Sidney Smith. The organ continues to serve the congregation at their social hall.
In 1951, the Jane Cole Circle presented “Pageant of the Brides.” Jane Cole was the wife of Academy sheep baron William T. Cole. She bore him 10 daughters (each married 10 local cowboys). Third and fourth generations of those families continue to support the Academy Church.
The pageant included gowns worn by Mrs. Lina Briscoe (1901); Mrs. J. Wise Browne, (1909); Mrs. Carl Merriman, (1912); Mrs. Carl Polson, (1913) and Mrs. Thomas Howison (1913), who were married at the church.
In 1993, Diane Slocum-Zastovnik, author and member of the church, published “100 years in Ministry.” Twenty-two names and the years of their membership were listed.
Six of the 22 survive: Norma Nelson Meek (82 years), Marilyn Smith Weyant (76 years), Peg Rogers Bos (72 years), Duane Wamsley, Helen Nelson McGaughy and Harry Rogers (71 years). All are from early day Clovis families.
Roberta Simpson Coon, great granddaughter of John and Sarah Simpson, and Ray Hedgpeth (1920-2010, great grandson of Rev. Joel Hedgpeth, founded the Academy Church Circle to preserve the church and continue worship services. The nonprofit Academy Community Foundation was formed in 2015 to continue financial support of the church that is the oldest continuing Protestant church in Fresno County.
The United Methodist Church is a part of our rich heritage.