Methodism had its start in Lunenburg in 1814 with the establishment of a mission by the German, George Orth. In 1816, a small church was built on the now vacant lots adjacent to the present manse, at the corner of Townsend and Prince Streets. Over the years, especially after 1840, the congregation increased greatly in size, most as a result of revivals. Twice - in 1865 and 1871 - the church was enlarged, but by the 1880'sa more radical change had become a necessity. Between 1883 and 1885, the present church was erected, using the plans of Edward Elliot, a reputable Halifax architect. Dedicated on March 15, 1885, the church cost in total was $14,893.21, almost all paid for through the sale of pews. Within ten years, the entire debt had been eliminated.
1885 was memorable in two other ways. The first was the destruction by fire of the parsonage in January with two tragic consequences: the death of a fireman from a falling chimney pot and the loss of almost all the church records. Except for statistics relating to births, marriages and deaths, from 1815 to 1835, the church records now begin in 1885. The second notable event was the hosting of the provincial conference of the Methodist church in June, something not previously possible because of inadequate facilities. The convention's keynote speaker called the church the cathedral of Methodism in Nova Scotia. Conference met again in Lunenburg in 1892, 1901 and 1914.
In 1925, the Lunenburg Methodist church became part of the United Church of Canada and, hitherto nameless, it called itself Central United Church.
Although the basic structure of the church remains much as it was in 1883, some changes of note have occurred. In 1904, the church bought the present organ from Casavant Frères of St. Hyacinthe for $2,700; it was renovated in 1966 at a cost of $20,000. The character of the church's exterior was altered markedly - some say for the worse - when its 75 foot spire, in need of repair, was replaced by a bell-like cup roofed in copper. The date remains a mystery, but the work appears to have been done in 1929 or 1930.
Between 1931 and 1971, all the windows in the sanctuary were replaced by stained glass memorial windows. In 1950, the chancel was enlarged and new accessories were installed; also the sanctuary, including the organ body and pipes, was redecorated. One observer declared that the interior now compared "very favourably in beauty and modernity" with that of any church in the province. 1975 saw a major addition with the completion of the Christian Youth Centre, which the United Church Women had been advocating for a decade. By the next year, its cost of more than $130,000 had been paid off.
But a splendid plan would be of little use without devoted servants to work it. The Lunenburg Methodist and Central United Churches have had hosts of such servants. Noteworthy are the two organists, Nora Smith and Ruth Cook, who served the church for 97 years, from 1902 to 1999. The church's reputation for music of quality has been provided by choir directors like Pearl Oxner and her daughter, Diane Oxner Macdonald. Perhaps most of all, the history of the two churches, Methodist and United, is the history of forty-six devoted pastors.
Compiled by Dr. J. Murray Beck