The years have not been easy for Polk Street United Methodist Church, but facing challenges within the church and in Amarillo has become the legacy of Amarillo’s oldest church according to a recent article in the Amarillo Globe-News.
The church began with eight people in November, 1888, in frame building that also served as the Potter County Courthouse. Methodist circuit rider Isaac Mills had come on horse and buggy from Weatherford with a directive to plant churches at four fresh new outposts along the line of the Fort Worth & Denver Railroad.
Built in 1928, the current building was dedicated on a cold February morning. The building was designed by a Tennessee architect, and took more than two years to complete, at a cost of $500,000.
Then came the Great Depression.
“The church held a note it literally could not pay because of the Depression,” said the Rev. Dr. Burt Palmer, PSUMC’s senior pastor. “The church chose not to default, not to renegotiate. The church said, ‘No, we owe the money,’ and it took over 30 years to pay for that building, but they did it.”
Over the years, the church as reach out during the 1919 flu epidemic, held food drives during the Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and turned the basement into a meeting area for Amarillo Air Base personnel during World War II.
“The only way you can meet the challenges of today and have the courage to be what God is calling a church to be today is to pause and look back and see the struggles we have had and put that in context,” Rev. Dr. Burt Palmer, PSUMC’s senior pastor, said.
“History teaches us about God’s faithfulness in the context of church,” he said, “and what we can do if we give our lives in faith.”
The challenge for PSUMC, as with most churches, is to stay relevant during a time when a growing part of the culture eschews organized religion. That challenge is particularly keen for downtown churches, which face city populations that grow to outlying edges where newer churches have sprung.
“People seek out what meets their hunger in faith, and their desire to make a difference in the world,” Palmer said.
He compares a downtown church like Polk Street to a favorite restaurant that might be inconvenient to reach, but is worth the drive because of the food and service.
“In simple terms, we need to make it worth the drive by speaking into the lives of people,” he said. “Our history has been one with a vibrant traditional worship, and people come not to be an observer, but they come invited to be involved with something bigger than themselves, something that God is doing in people’s lives. That’s what ties our history to our present.”
More about the church can be found here.