A Brief History of North Broadway: Its Ministry, Its Leaders and Its Facilities

The roots of North Broadway United Methodist Church go back to the early 1800s, when Methodists were among the first settlers in Clinton Township, a five square mile area between Fifth Avenue and Rathbone Road, east of the Olentangy River. In 1819, the Methodists organized a Bible study group that met in a log house on land that is now part of Whetstone Park.

In 1821, they moved to the large brick home of Thomas Bull, on the east side of High Street between what are now Dunedin and Piedmont Roads. Bull died in 1823, but his will stipulated that land be given to the Methodists for a church.

The church was not built until 1838. In the meantime, the Methodists met in a log school house on the west side of High Street near present-day Walhalla Drive.

The Clinton Chapel, a sturdy brick building, was finally completed in 1838 on Bull’s land just across High Street from the log school house. During the Civil War, the chapel, a building with a foundation of glacial boulders and walls of brick, was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The chapel, though altered over the years, still exists as part of Southwick-Good & Fortkamp Funeral Home.

The chapel had grown to 282 members when the building was sold by the conference in 1881. After the sale, some of the chapel families began meeting as a Sunday School in a schoolhouse near the present-day site of Clinton Elementary School.

In 1905, the conference assigned the Rev. Westervelt to serve as the first supervisor of the Sunday School, which had about 60 members, and a new congregation was officially organized. Construction began in 1909 on what was then called Como Methodist Episcopal Church. After completing its building in 1910, the Como congregation grew rapidly. The building was expanded once, and by 1920, the church had exceeded 700 members. It was in that year that the need for a larger church prompted the congregation to lay plans for what would become North Broadway Methodist Episcopal Church.

On Oct. 3, 1921, the congregation purchased land for a new church on North Broadway, just east of N. High Street, for $7,500. The congregation signed a contract for construction with Martin, Orr, & Martin Architects on May 14, 1923. They had raised about $12,000. Building and furnishing the church would eventually cost $182,000.

Ground was broken on May 20, 1923. On Sept. 28, 1924, a Sunday School band led the congregation on a “march” north on High Street from Como to East North Broadway on a bright Sunday morning. Two members who made that march as boys were still alive when the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary: H.O. Krehbiel and Allen Murray. This is still remembered as “the Como March.”

The white frame church on Como Avenue, just east of N. High Street, was sold to the United Brethren Church and became a United Methodist Church when the two denominations merged in 1968. The building has continuously been a church for 100 years and remains so to this day, though its affiliation has changed a number of times.

When the congregation arrived at its new church, Rev. E.L. Davis was there to greet them. He had worked for five years to help members plan their new home. After preaching the first sermon ever delivered from the North Broadway pulpit, he retired. Dr. Thomas H. Campbell became the pastor. The new building was formally dedicated on Oct. 12, 1924, by Bishop Theodore Henderson. In its new home, the church grew rapidly, doubling in membership from 769 to 1390 members in 1929, when Dr. Thomas T. Crawford succeeded Dr. Campbell.

The stock market crashed shortly after Dr. Crawford’s arrival, and The Great Depression followed. The church ran into trouble making its mortgage payments as members fell on hard times. North Broadway struggled but continued to grow, reaching 1,961 members by 1937, when Dr. Charles M. Coulter took over as pastor. During his tenure, North Broadway hired its first assistant pastor, Dr. Ronald Greene, who concentrated on youth programs.

World War II deeply affected the congregation. More than 200 members served in the military, and the church lost eight sons. A plaque at the bottom of the ramp at the main southeast entrance records their names.

Dr. Coulter was succeeded in 1943 by an interim pastor, Dr. Carl Gregg Doney. He served for seven months until Dr. F. Gerald Ensley arrived in the spring of 1944. Ensley was renowned for his preaching, and services were often packed.

The North Broadway congregation entered a period of fast growth and big changes after World War II. The renowned preaching of Dr. F. Gerald Ensley, who became the senior minister in 1944, drew more and more people to the church. In 1948, with membership rising rapidly, North Broadway undertook its first major remodeling since the church’s construction in 1924.

The sanctuary was enlarged, a center aisle was created and a new communion rail and altar were installed. Dr. Ensley also initiated the Altar Guild. The 1940s ended with membership at 3,000. More remodeling came in 1951 when the church added an education wing to the north side of the building. It initially housed a preschool that would later become North Broadway Children’s Center.

Dr. Ensley was elected a bishop of the church in 1952. Dr. Raymond Hibbard served as interim senior minister until Ensley’s successor, Dr. Lance Webb, took over in 1953.

With the North Side growing fast, North Broadway’s membership skyrocketed, reaching 4,000 by 1956. It was now one of the most prestigious mainline churches in Columbus. This created a parking problem. Between 1947 and 1965, the church acquired eight nearby lots or houses to convert into parking. Dr. Webb, also known for his preaching, served until 1964, when he, too, was elected a bishop.

Dr. William E. Smith took over as senior minister in 1965. The church’s membership hit its peak in Smith’s first year – 4,527. Updating the rolls cut those numbers, as did the decline of mainline Protestantism and the flight to the suburbs. Membership had fallen below 4,000 by the end of the 1960s.

In 1970, North Broadway began construction of the education wing that now houses the North Broadway Children’s Center, and in 1972 the sanctuary was extensively remodeled. The building campaign specified that for every $2 spent on the building, $1 would be spent on outreach. This effort provided funds to help start the Clintonville Community Resources Center.

The sanctuary remodeling included a new Casavant pipe organ, which enhanced the church’s strong tradition of worship through music.

Dr. Smith was succeeded as senior minister by Rev. Charles Kirsch in 1982. The church became increasingly active in outreach efforts through such programs as the Interfaith Hospitality Network that housed the homeless. Another remodeling that began in 1989 added office space and an elevator.

Rev. Kirsch was succeeded by C. Joseph Sprague in 1990, when church membership stood at about 2,300. Rev. Sprague continued the emphasis on social justice, often speaking out against war, consumerism, and inequity.

In 1996, Rev. Sprague was elected a bishop, and Rev. John Dunham was appointed interim senior minister until 1997, when Dr. Mearle Griffith took over.

The church building grew once again with the completion of the Simpson Memorial Chapel in 1997. In 1999, the Large and Small Dining Rooms were remodeled and renamed Anniversary Hall and Como Hall. In 2000, Dr. Griffith was succeeded by Rev. Edwin Lewis.

In 2006, Rev. Dr. Deborah Stevens was appointed Senior Minister, becoming the first female senior pastor to serve in the North Broadway pulpit.

During Rev. Stevens’ tenure, a Capital Campaign was undertaken to update the sanctuary, make the building more energy efficient, and improve fire safety. The sanctuary’s appearance did not change markedly, but the platform holding the altar was extended, ramps were added, and a video screen was installed.

North Broadway also became a Reconciling Congregation, declaring that it welcomes people of all races, ages, nationalities, gender identities, sexual orientations, economic statuses, and mental and physical abilities.

In July 2015, Rev. Stevens was succeeded as Senior Pastor by Rev. Marcus Atha. During Rev. Atha’s appointment, the congregation of North Broadway renewed its focus on children and youth when, in December of 2015, a new nursery, All Things Bright and Beautiful, was completed in room 121. Generous memorial gifts have allowed the community to revitalize additional spaces for children and youth, including the creation of Miller Park on the third floor of the building and The Studio (formerly known as The Undercroft) on the ground floor.

In the spring of 2017, North Broadway United Methodist Church became a multiple-campus community, as the congregations of North Broadway and New Life United Methodist Church in the Short North area of Columbus voted to join together. The building in the Short North is set to undergo significant renovations and will serve as a satellite campus of North Broadway once its renovations are complete. The Short North location also houses the non-profit organization New Life Community Outreach (NLCO), which remains operational and provides meals, clothing, and other basic needs to individuals experiencing homelessness or financial difficulty.

Cultural and demographic shifts have continued to impact the size of the church membership, which stands at around 700 members. The outreach and vitality of the ministry remain strong, however. North Broadway continues its tradition of quality worship with magnificent music. Adult education offerings are intellectually and theologically robust. The people of North Broadway are visible and vocal advocates for justice. The partnership with the North Broadway Children’s Center continues to offer top quality early childhood education to the community. Outreach to homeless families, to international and regional mission partners, and to the Clintonville-Beechwold Community Resource Center continues to offer many avenues for persons to grow in discipleship and become more deeply committed to the call of Christ which was first articulated in the community when Methodists settled in Clinton township.