Written histories usually involve dates and places. With this in mind, below is a brief history of the Choteau United Methodist Church.
Rev. W.W. Van Orsdel, a traveling Methodist evangelist and missionary, better known as “Brother Van,” held the first Protestant service at the Blackfeet and Peigan Agency, located several miles west of Choteau, July 1872. The next morning, Brother Van set out with a party of twenty-five warriors for a buffalo hunt on the “Freeze-out Flat.” The buffalo were plentiful and Brother Van shot his first buffalo. The celebrated cowboy artist, Charles Russell, painted a picture of this event.
In 1890, Rev. Job Little was appointed to serve the Methodist Church in Choteau, and in 1894 Rev. George Logan came. It was during this time that the first church and parsonage were completed. The parsonage was built on the location of the current parsonage, and the church was right next door. In the springtime each year, as the grass greens up, the exact location of the entrance of the old church can be seen. The grass in the location of its sidewalk still comes up a different color of green!
In 1913, while Rev. P.R. McMahon was pastor, the first parsonage was moved and the current parsonage was built. There are folks who remember going to Sunday School in the parsonage. Annual Conferences were held in Choteau in 1901, 1905, and 1913.
It was in 1949 that the old church was moved across the street (which now makes up the upstairs fellowship room and offices) and the new sanctuary was built. The first service in the new building, a “Christmas Victory Service”, was held on December 18, 1949. The indoor handicap ramp, one of the best anywhere, was built in 1995/96.
But church history is so much more than dates and places. It is all the interactions of lives that make up the church. It is the weekly gathering for worship. It is the gathering of children, and youth, and adults for times of learning. It is sharing meals together in fellowship times. It is roast beef dinners and turkey dinners and making pies and harvest potlucks. It is celebrating together at weddings and baptisms and confirmations. It is crying together and comforting each other at funerals and other times of sorrow and loss. It is the helping each other out in times of need. It is listening to each other and struggling through difficulties and dilemmas together.
But the church is still more. It is a gathering of people that sends forth. As we look back, we remember the people that have gone forth from our communities of faith to be in service to others. They now live in other communities and are nurtured in other places, but they were spiritually birthed here. We give thanks for our communities of faith that have, and continue to, influence the world beyond our four walls.
The song says “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people.” And so it is for us, the folks who make up the bodies of Christ called the Choteau United Methodist Church. We have a history of our past. We live in the present. We look to the future to continue to find ways to share the love of Christ in our communities, and even “unto the ends of the earth.”