• Worship with us on Sunday mornings at one of our services...


    8:30am in the Chapel


    9:45am in the Sanctuary


    11:00am in the Sanctuary

    101 E. Jefferson Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902
    Email: churchoffice@cvillefirstumc.org
    Phone: (434) 296-6193


    Parking Map





1. Pastor's Welcome

2. What We Believe

3. Location

4. Parking Map

5. Staff - bios and contact info

6. Membership

7. Update/access member data

8. History of the church

Let There Be Light!

Some may question the need to put lights on a church steeple, especially if some of those lights are presented in color at various times of the year. Although there may very well be some aesthetic or artistic reasons to do so, it’s also important to understand that there may be some valuable theological reasons, as well.

In the book of Genesis God said, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). It was the very first act of Creation. Out of darkness came the light of God’s presence, and centuries later when Christ came into the world he called himself the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Then, when he sent his disciples out into the darkness of the world, he told them, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Clearly, light is one of the most important metaphors for God’s very presence in our lives and in the lives of others.

When we light our church steeple we are not saying, “Look at me. Look at the wonderful beauty of our architecture.” To the contrary, we are saying, “Look at Christ. Look upward beyond the dark streets and busy thoroughfares. Look for the source of all life that is higher than all else.” A cross sits at the top of our steeple to acknowledge that self-giving, sacrificial love is the basis of our faith and the beacon that directs all of our living. Christ died on a cross in the cloud-covered darkness of Good Friday but rose like the sun three days later to spread the light of God’s forgiving grace across the land.

First United Methodist Church’s steeple, when lighted at night, reminds all who pass by that God is alive and present in the midst of whatever darkness clouds our vision of true life. In the book of Exodus we learn that God led Moses and the Israelites through the wilderness with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). The light from our steeple reminds us of the fire light that directs the path of God’s people to this very day.

Some might question the shining of colored lights from inside the steeple that we use from time to time. They may startle or even cause a bit of discomfort as they interrupt the serenity and peace of a more aesthetic, colorless illumination. Our eyes may be drawn to the purple or red hues that draw our attention away from the spire or other intricate architectural elements. But that is precisely their purpose. They are meant to distract - ever so slightly, ever so imperceptibly – in order to cause us to question, like the child who asks during the Passover Seder, “Why is this night different from all the rest?” Why have the lights on the steeple changed in color? What is different about this time of year? What does this mean?

The Christian calendar is full of seasons, as Qoheleth the “preacher” of Ecclesiastes suggests: “There is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Two of the most important seasons of the Christian Year are Advent and Lent, times leading to the birth of our Savior and his sacrificial death and resurrection. These are seasons of preparation, expectation, and, yes, penitence. We begin Lent with Ash Wednesday, a day to remember in humility from where we have come, dust of the earth. Thus, the steeple offers a dusty, gray light from within its tower on that day. During Lent purple is used to call us to repentance as we remind ourselves of our need for God’s redeeming love. On Good Friday the lights will be extinguished, reminding us that through our own selfish hatred Christ breathed his last and was laid in a tomb.

Then, at midnight as Easter begins and to mark the Resurrection of our Lord, the lights will shine brightly again with the color of a rising sun. On Pentecost, the lights will turn red to remind us of the birthday of the Church when the fire of the Holy Spirit rested upon the heads of the early followers of Jesus.

Yes, for some the colors will be distracting, but hopefully they will cause still others to question, to wonder, to ponder what God’s people are up to. They will remind us all that worship of God is both a comfort and a challenge, a place of sanctuary and a place to be pushed into service, just as the Spirit “drove” Jesus into the wilderness of temptation immediately following his baptism.

In our Sanctuary is a 1930 reproduction of Raphael’s The Transfiguration. It is an artist’s interpretation of the story found in Matthew 17:1-21 of Jesus leading three of his disciples up on a mountain where he is “transfigured” with Moses and Elijah. The scene is to affirm that Christ is the fulfillment of both the Law and the Prophets. Peter wants to remain on the mountain and build three booths ostensibly to worship these important figures of the faith, but Jesus has other ideas. He leads his friends down the mountain, into the valley, where he finds a boy in need of healing. The message is clear, is it not? Worship can occur on the mountains of our lives, in our sanctuaries, in our moments of solemn reflection; but ultimately our faith must draw us down into the valley where people are in need. We need the quiet of mountain retreats but only in preparation for the valleys of ministry that await our presence.

We light our steeple to be a beacon of grace in a sometimes graceless, darkened world and as a challenge to our people to go into that darkness and proclaim, “Let there be light!”

The Rev. Alvin J. Horton (March 15, 2017)

One of the most iconic landmarks in downtown Charlottesville is now a beacon of light!  On Christmas Eve, 2016, First United Methodist Church completed the months-long repair of its 138-foot, 92-year-old steeple and now shows off its many architectural elements even in the night. Special LED lights bathe the exterior cupolas, accent the cross, and light from inside the steeple’s multi-paned windows.

A “Grand Illumination” was held at the corner of North 1st and East Jefferson Streets on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, at 6:30pm. Following a time of appreciation, the reading of scripture, and prayer - the steeple was lit.

When Bill Owens, church member and architect guiding the repair of the steeple, appeared before the city’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) on October 18, 2016, he could not have predicted the board’s degree of favorable reaction to the church’s proposal to light the steeple. One board member even stated, “Perhaps this will set a precedent for other churches in the city.” Leading up to unanimous approval of the plan, board members expressed how much they thought the lighting would be an aesthetic asset and tangible draw to the downtown area. The special lighting was designed and installed by Mark Schuyler of Mark Schuyler Design who helped present the proposal to the BAR. Safeway Electric installed the electrical system.

The steeple repair was led by Collin Waters, president of Waters Craftsman, Inc. of Huntley, Virginia, a restoration consultation and preservation company that specializes in the restoration of sacred and historic properties. The firm has restored hundreds of historic properties throughout the United States and Caribbean, including elements of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress, the National Cathedral, the State House in Richmond, and a number of historic properties of the National Park Service. Most recently, Dale Waters, the company founder, helped rescue the Thomas Jefferson designed resort and bathhouse at Sweet Springs, West Virginia.

All painted surfaces were stripped down to the bare wood so a special organic linseed oil paint could be applied and that should last for fifty years or more. In the process of restoration, the steeple’s deteriorated architectural features were repaired or rebuilt, new interior ladders were installed, and copper gutters were mended or replaced. The linseed oil paint that was used in the restoration process is meant to last dramatically longer that more modern paints, according to Owens, and it is environmentally friendly because it is composed of only natural paint pigments with no added solvents.

The cost of the project was estimated to be nearly $447,000 which is no small amount for any faith community. However, when church leaders considered simply removing the steeple it became clear that even that would cost at least as much, if not more, than repairing the historic structure. A finance campaign was launched by the congregation two years ago to raise the funds needed, and fund-raising efforts have been renewed now that the work has begun.

The congregation of First United Methodist Church dates back to 1834, and the present building on Jefferson Street at Lee Park is the third home for the church. The congregation’s first building once stood on Water Street between First and Second Streets West, south of the present Downtown Mall.

First UMC Staff


Pastoral Staff

Rev. Gary Heaton

Lead Pastor

Rev. Heaton his wife Beth have come from Roanoke where he has served as Greene Memorial UMC’s pastor for the past five years. He is a graduate of High Point College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and Beth is a graduate of William & Mary and UVA. Gary has served in the Virginia Conference since 1986 in a variety of settings. He and Beth love to kayak and share a love of the outdoors and are advocates of Creation Care. Gary’s grandfather was a Methodist Minister and his spiritual formation was steeped in the gracious, inclusive and transnational theology of the United Methodist Church. Contact Rev. Heaton

Rev. Phil Woodson

Associate Pastor

Rev. Woodson graduated from James Madison University with a BM in Music Education, earned his endorsement in Gifted Education in 2011, and is completing the UMC Course of Study requirements at the Divinity School of Duke University. Before answering God's call to Pastoral Ministry, Phil was an elementary school teacher for nine years - during which he also worked as a church music director and youth ministry leader. Phil and his wife Ellen have three sons: Cooper, Peter, and Jack. Contact Rev. Woodson

Program & Ministry Staff


Carolyn McGee

Spiritual Life Coordinator

Carolyn is not originally from Charlottesville, but she got here as fast as she could!  She has been a part of First United Methodist Church since 1988 and serves as our Spiritual Life Coordinator through facilitating opportunities for the church family to experience and grow in their own relationships with Jesus Christ and foster an environment of fellowship and spiritual development that engages the congregation in living out a Christian lifestyle. Part of this position also includes leading the Celebration Singers and the children’s music ministry – along with providing additional opportunities for worship through the Fine Arts. With a B.M. in Music Therapy and another in Music Education, Carolyn spent 33 years in education before becoming an owner and proprietor of a local Inn. She is married to Gary and has two grown sons and a sweet daughter-in-law. Be sure to watch her face light up when you ask her about her grandchildren Willow and Gillispie! Contact Carolyn

Alex Erwine

Director of Discipleship for Youth & Children

Alex grew up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but quickly ran to the south where she has spent the past four years studying at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia for business and communication studies. She was very involved with InterVaristy Christian Fellowship on her campus. Alex has also held many internships in the past two summers. She has held a position of Intern of Youth Ministries, where she helped Grace Presbyterian Church lead the youth group. Alex was also Vacation Bible School Coordinator for Grace, where she organized and oversaw the event. In her down time, you can find her on a golf course or watching a good movie. Contact Alex.

Kevin White

Music Director

Kevin serves as the First UMC Music Director and conducts the Chancel Choir and the "First Bells" hand bell ensemble. Kevin is beginning his 3rd year at First United Methodist and loves the downtown Charlottesville congregation.  Kevin taught public school music for 32 years locally both in Charlottesville City and Albemarle County.  Outside of his church work, Kevin works in musical theater with UVA's Drama Department, Charlottesville High and Monticello High schools. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys sailing and salt water fishing on Cape Cod. Kevin's wife Carol is a nurse at Albemarle Square Family Healthcare; his son Luke is attending VCU and is on the crew team; and his stepdaughter Samantha is employed by New America in Washington, D.C. Contact Kevin

Kelli Henning

Director of First UMC Preschool

Kelli is originally from Ohio, but moved to sunny Virginia fourteen years ago with her husband and triplets. Kelli is a member of First United Methodist Church and is happy to be serving as the Preschool Director and Head Teacher of the two-year old class at First United Methodist Preschool (FUMP). Kelli has been blessed to work in early childhood education for nearly twenty-five years. She has a B.A. in Individual and Family Studies with a concentration in birth to age 5, from Kent State University and received her License to teach Elementary Education from Mary Baldwin University. Kelli’s previous experiences include teaching preschool, teaching elementary school, and serving as an administrator of a large Early Childhood Services program.  She loves working with children and their families as they discover their many gifts. Contact Kelli

Erika Woodling

Coordinator of Infant and Toddler Care

Erika moved to Charlottesville from WV in 1999.   She is married to Kevin and they have two daughters: Elana and Viviann. She has always enjoyed working with children - when her oldest was 2 yrs old Erika decided to find child care jobs that enable her to stay home and focus on her family while connecting with other families around the area.  A lifelong Methodist, she came to First U.M.C. in 2014 and is so grateful to be part of the church family and spend her Sundays in the Nursery. Erika coordinates paid nursery staff and nursery volunteers for Sunday services and special events. Contact Erika

Administrative Staff & Specialists

Kathy Berkeley

Administrative Assistant

Kathy was born in Connecticut, raised in Texas, but is a Virginian at heart.  "I feel very lucky to be here.  I have worn many hats in my life, working in the marine industry as VP/Sales, in the film business as a make up artist and Emmy winner,  and now here at First United Methodist Church. We are a fantastic church family and I am so blessed to be a part of it." Kathy produces the weekly bulletins, maintains the church calendar, oversees office volunteers and orders supplies. Contact Kathy


Jeannie Gentry

Business Manager

Jeannie is a lifelong resident of Albemarle County and now a happy member of the First UMC family.    She received her Business/Accounting education at the Jefferson Professional Institute some years ago and has worked with at least three nonprofit organizations in Charlottesville and Albemarle.  She and her husband Lewis (Buck) reside in the Crozet/Ivy area where they enjoy the company of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Jeannie maintains the church's financial records, assists the church treasurer, and is always excited to answer questions and welcome visitors to her office. Contact Jeannie

Lyndsay Harshman

Facilities Manager

Lyndsay landed in Virginia early 2016 and is of Scottish decent although born in London England.  Having worked overseas since 1993 she has a wealth of experience as English Editor for the Kuwait Oil Company, PA to an Arab Investment Banker and Executive Household Manager to VIP residence, palaces and Royal Families in Qatar, BOS Manager for NSA Bahrain and most recently Facilities Manager at the DoDea School in Bahrain. Lyndsay, her husband and two dogs live in Ruckersville and  has two children being educated at University in Scotland.  Lyndsay provides for maintenance of church facilities and assists the work of church trustees. Contact Lyndsay


Rev. Dr. Harry Kennon

Pastor Emeritus

Harry, his wife Gale, and their two sons became lay members of FUMC in 1970. Harry entered the pastoral ministry in 1982, after a 15 year business career. He served the rural Greene Charge while attending seminary and returned to FUMC as Associate Pastor from 1985-88. Subsequently, Harry served churches in Richmond, Chesterfield, and Norfolk before being appointed to FUMC as Senior Pastor in 2003. Upon his retirement in 2009, he was given the title Pastor Emeritus and continues to be active in various ministries. Harry and Gale are the proud grandparents of four. They both love to travel and are avid “sports nuts”, especially UVa baseball. Harry also enjoys riding the motorcycle he bought when he retired. Contact Harry


Location & Parking

First United Methodist Church is located in historic downtown Charlottesville, VA, 2 blocks north of the downtown mall and across Jefferson St. from Lee Park. The white marble steps visible from Lee Park side lead into the main sanctuary.

Visitors are invited to park in the lot reached from 2nd Street (between High St. and Jefferson St.). Handicapped parking spaces are available in this lot. Entering the church from this parking lot and through the door on the left side of the portico takes you to the Welcome Center whre you can find the Sanctuary, the Chapel, and the Fellowship Hall where Sunday services are held. The door on the right side of the portico opens to an elevator. There is a wheelchair located inside this entrance if needed.

  • Take elevator to G for preschool Children's classrooms and Fellowship Hall (9:45 a.m. service).
  • Take elevator to 2nd floor for Chapel (8:30 a.m. service) and Sanctuary (11:00 a.m. service).
  • Take elevator to 3rd floor for most Sunday School classrooms

There are several parking lots available for Sunday morning parking, each within a short walk of the church. See map for specific locations.

Gaining access to a relationship with God is the purpose of the Body of Christ (the Church).  It has been several decades since the Jefferson St. entrance, with its marble stairs and arched double doors, has been the primary entry way into the church.  For over a month now, the parking lot and glass doors off High St. have been eerily quiet and activity inside the building is at a minimum.  On Mondays, the soup kitchen is closed and our Monday through Friday Preschool has gone online.

However, the ministry of the FIRST United Methodist Church in Charlottesville is open and active and engaged in Witness, Outreach, Nurture and Worship.   The activity of the church has moved from the building into the homes, telephones and computer screens of our members.  The good news of the Gospel is being shared online and in appropriately distanced conversations and actions.  The faithful prayers and giving and service continue to overflow from the grace of God living in the hearts of believers.   Now is a time for God’s people to reach out with renewed vigor to share and show the power of the resurrection.  Frightened and anxious and isolated people are searching for hope and strength.  The church of Jesus Christ is the gift that we have to offer. 

The entry ways to the church may be changing, but the faith and the love of God’s people has not.  We want everyone to know that you can find a place to belong and people to hold on to in times of trial.  We want to offer the grace and love and salvation that has come to the world in Jesus Christ.  He is the portal through which we all have gained access to a saving relationship with God.

Please join us.  

Rev. Gary Heaton
Contact Rev. Heaton


  • 1834- First Methodist Episcopal Church is built.
  • 1859-1867 The "old" First Methodist Episcopal Church South is built.
  • 1888 -Complete renovation of the "old" church is done.
  • 1897- Belmont Avenue Methodist Church is built.
  • 1909- Belmont Avenue Methodist Church is rebuilt and becomes Hinton Avenue Methodist Church.
  • 1924- The present First United Methodist Church is built.
  • 1957- Wesley Memorial Methodist Church is built.
  • 1964- Aldersgate Methodist Church is built.
  • 1964- Wesley Foundation Building is built.
  • 1978- $125,000 renovation of current First United Methodist Church is done including air conditioning of sanctuary and social hall.
  • 2002- $2.75 million renovation of preschool, first, second and third floor. Includes new office space, fellowship hall, welcome center, music suite, parking entrance and elevators.

First United Methodist Church, located at 101 East Jefferson Street, Charlottesville, Virginia, was first established in 1834 on the south side of Water Street between First and West Second Streets. We are currently in our third location. The first service in our current location was held November 12, 1925.

Included among the distinguishing features of the church sanctuary is a copy of the painting The Transfiguration. This copy was made by Mrs. Ada Payne Quarles and presented to the church on October 26, 1930. This wonderful work of art continues to enrich our worship experience to this day.

Beginnings and First Building

In 1834 Thomas Jefferson had been dead just eight years. Charlottesville was a town of about 1500 people largely confined to the area between First and Seventh Streets (east and west) and Water and High Streets. In this same year, the Methodists built a church on the south side of Water Street between First and West Second Streets.

1834 church

The church, built by James Lobbin, was a brick structure with a tower whose top reminded some of an upside down card table. Unfortunately the one picture we have of the church does not show the extreme top of the tower. The interior, including a balcony in the rear, seated 350, and it had an extremely high pulpit. (This may well have been the custom of the day. From the pulpit of John Wesley's City Chapel in London, the preacher could almost look eye to eye with those who sat in the balcony.) It was the general opinion in that day that musical instruments did not belong in church, so there was no organ.

Second Building

In 1859, twenty-five years after they built the first church building, the Charlottesville Methodists started building a second time.

1859, second building on Water Street

If we have some difficulty understanding why churches were not built earlier in Charlottesville, we have even greater difficulty understanding why this one was built so soon. One might suppose that they built to accommodate the growing membership, but, in fact, the church had only grown from 60 to 153 members. Membership would not approach the capacity of the church building (350) for another twenty-five years.

Charlottesville, itself, nearly doubled its population from 1835 to 1870 (the first year we have an actual record) but was still no more than a very small town. Church congregations have sometimes been known to move to a better site. Those early Methodists moved across the Street to what is now the southwest comer of Water and West Second Streets, facing the site of their first church.

With the Rev. William E. Judkins as pastor, they started their church in 1859. The corner stone was laid September 5, 1860, with the Widow's Son's Lodge conducting Masonic ceremonies. But they were unable to finish more than the basement, where they worshiped until 1867. Then, with the Rev. Thomas A. Ware as Pastor and G. W. Spooner, a member of the church, as builder, the upper floor was completed at a cost of $3900.00.

Twenty years later (c. 1879) the Methodists were building again. They tore off the roof and built one with a much steeper pitch; took out the windows and replaced them with better ones; shoved out the rear wall and installed their first pipe organ and a choir loft; and built a tower on each of the front comers, one topped by a high spire. Inside they built balconies on three sides. The total result was a Gothic style church as impressive as any in the city. The work was completed in 1888 with the Rev. William E. Edmunds as pastor.

Charlottesville doubled in size from 2600 in 1880 to 5500 in 1890. Church membership gradually grew to 275 in 1882 and then almost doubled in five years. The first recorded Sunday School enrollment (1867) was greater than the church membership. Considering all these circumstances the people were most likely proud of their church and community and optimistic about the future. So they remodeled the church.

They continued to raise money and gave $600.00 toward the building of a frame church erected in 1897 with 40 charter members. Thus First Methodist Church had its first experience as the parent of a new church. In fact, between 1897 and 1898, First Methodist lost 134 members, presumably to the new church, and all the trustees were originally from the parent church. The church had a regularly assigned pastor from its beginning. Twelve years later, when it was able to rebuild at the corner of Hinton Avenue and Church Street, it became the Hinton Avenue Methodist Church. As for First Methodist Church, by 1900 it had practically renewed its membership from the loss in founding a new church; it had increased its budget by almost $2,000.00 (a sizable amount in those days).

University of Virginia

The University of Virginia had a great influence on Charlottesville and on the development of the Methodist Church here. The first Methodist Chaplain, 1832-34, was William Hammett, who bought, or at least acted as purchasing agent for, the lot on which the first Methodist Church was built. We can well imagine that he had considerable influence in the church. It is not surprising that, when he objected to the "legs of an upside down card table" at the top of the church tower, they were cut off.

Throughout the years of the first church its ministers took turns as University Chaplains.

Third (present-day) Building

1918 church interior

In 1913 or 1914, church membership reached the 1000 mark and Sunday School enrollment had increased to over 700. In 1916, they considered building Sunday School rooms on the rear of the old church. They hired an architect, determined the cost of the work and decided to proceed with the building. They never did! Possibly the United States' entry into World War I may have delayed the building of those Sunday School rooms.

By September of that year they had chosen the present location; and in October Joseph Hudnut, a New York City architect who later became a faculty member at the University of Virginia, was hired to do the planning. Ground for the building was broken on March 12, 1923.

On March 31, 1924, the Masonic Grand Lodge of Virginia joined local lodges in laying the cornerstone. At that time the Sunday School building and the social hall were completed, A year later, the sanctuary was completed.

First Methodist Church now had a sanctuary seating 975; a social hall of the same size; a chapel seating 300; an education building that would accommodate a Sunday School when it enrolled over 1000, and a club room designed specifically for University student use. But the work was not complete. The church still owed $109,704, so it proceeded with remarkable speed to pay the debt.

In 1950, a fire, starting in the entrance to the Sunday School building, spread quickly into the chancel where it severely damaged the organ and even endangered The Transfiguration painting.

1950s sanctuary post-fireA new organ was built in 1951 by the M.P. Moller Company. While repairs were being made, the church adopted the divided chancel in preference to the original central pulpit.

Wesley Foundation at UVA

For years First Church housed the Wesley Foundation and it met in the clubroom. In 1957 new quarters were found much nearer the campus, but as late as 1972 its director was listed on the staff of First Church. Our church continues to contribute significantly to its support; and our pastor serves on its Board of Directors.

Fostering Methodism in Charlottesville

In the First Church bulletin for December 6, 1953, we find, "The Reverend C. Warner Crumb, has been appointed to begin a new church in the west end of Charlottesville... Until the work of the new church develops to the point of having Sunday services, we extend a cordial welcome to these good friends to make themselves at home here at First Church and to call upon us for any assistance we may render them." One may well believe that First Church gave both help and encouragement; for on February 24, 1957, the congregation of Wesley Memorial Church, now self-supporting, moved into its new chapel.

Only seven years later, in 1964, Aldersgate United Methodist Church began. While First Church may not have originated the efforts in behalf of this church, we may be sure that it gave encouragement and that a number of its members and prospective members now attend Aldersgate UMC.

The Eisenhower years in the 1950's were church-going days and First Church was a part of the nationwide trend. Church membership increased above 2,000. In 1962, youth meetings attracted over 100 each Sunday evening. Somewhere between 1950 and 1965 First Church came to a zenith; but of course, to suggest a high point is to realize that there are valleys. By the mid-60's the youth program had begun a descent. We must also remember that this was a period of youth rebellion throughout the country. Church membership dropped - and gradually, Sunday School enrollment and attendance made steeper declines.

First Church had spent the better part of a generation building and paying for its new church building. Charlottesville itself was changing. While people had gradually been moving to the outskirts of town, there was practically no shopping available on U.S. 29 North until the mid 60's - people still needed to return to downtown stores. Soon, however, with the building of shopping centers and churches (sometimes the rejuvenation of nearby rural churches) there was no need to return to the city for anything. Downtown merchants had great difficulty in surviving and churches also suffered. First Church actually remained strong and vigorous throughout these difficult times. Church membership dipped and wavered; but since 1975 it has remained stable at about 1500.

In 2013, The Transfiguration painting at the front of the Sanctuary was restored by artist Stephanie Newman.

First United Methodist Church continues to be a vital part of downtown. As our history and tradition suggest, we continue to open our hearts, minds and doors in the name of Jesus Christ.