West End began as a mission of McKendree Methodist Episcopal Church, South in 1869. Called West Nashville Mission,the congregation of 20 met in government barracks left over from the Civil War. The name became West End Mission in 1871 and the word "mission" was dropped in 1873, signifying independence from McKendree.
West End's first full-time minister was Fountain E. Pitts, appointed by Bishop Holland McTyeire. By 1875, the congregation numbered 68 and moved out of the barracks into their own church. It was a simple frame structure located on the northeast corner of Broad and Belmont (now 16th Avenue). These were also the beginning years of Vanderbilt University, which opened under Methodist auspices in 1875.
A decade after the first church building was placed in service the congregation built its second church building, a towering brick edifice that would stand forty years at Sixteenth and Broad. It was dedicated in 1890. George Stoves was appointed to West End in 1918, near the end of WWI. During his pastorate the membership passed 2,000 and the location facing Vanderbilt campus was chosen as the location for the existing church building.
The Education Building was first occupied on Sunday, October 27, 1929. The plan was to proceed immediately to erect the sanctuary, but two days later the collapse of the stock market began the Great Depression. The congregation worshipped in Vanderbilt facilities "temporarily" for ten years while struggling to raise funds.
In 1937 ground was broken for the sanctuary and on Passion Sunday, March 10, 1940, the church worshipped in its own house once again. Dr. Costen J. Harrell was pastor at the time and was elected Bishop in 1944.
When the West End congregation first worshipped in the newly-completed sanctuary in March 1940, not all of the stained glass windows were yet installed. Through the next eight years, the rest of the windows were commissioned, installed, and dedicated as they were funded and completed. The entire sanctuary was dedicated in 1948 when the debt had been completely paid.
The stained glass windows of the West End Sanctuary are a distinctive and important part of the worship space. The art windows are the work of the D'Ascenzo Studios, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, distinguished glass artists under the direction of Nicola D'Ascenzo (1871-1954) whose work is in a number of churches and other buildings throughout the United States, including Riverside Church in New York City, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., The Folger Shakespeare Library in New York, and buildings at Yale and Princeton Universities. A window he designed for the RCA headquarters is now in the Smithsonian Institution.
The building was dedicated, debt free, in 1948, the memorial cloister was built in 1950 and the first pipe organ was installed in 1952. Dr. James W. Henley was pastor for sixteen years, ending when he was elected Bishop in 1960.
Toward the end of West End's first century, the church took a long, pondering look at itself -- at the characteristics of its membership, and the changes in its community, at the variety and extent of its opportunities. This self-analysis led to the decision in 1965 to remodel and expand the educational, social and recreational facilities. Roy C. Clark was senior minister during the time of this five story addition being built. In 1980, he became West End's third pastor to be elected Bishop.
The 1980s and 1990s were decades of renovation. The parking lot was paved, lighted and landscaped. The porte cochere entrance with ramp and automatic doors made the building accessible to people in wheelchairs. The chapel underwent extensive renovation. The cloister garden was redesigned to incorporate the columbarium. The Bowen Library was expanded and the Reed Hall reception area was created.
Affirming our ministry with children, West End dedicated its new Play Gardens. An eight-month strategic planning process known as ReVision was completed, identifying these five crucial focus areas: Spiritual Growth, Neighborhood Outreach, Lay Participation, Youth Ministry and Hospitality and Inclusiveness. A Master Plan was proposed for our building and property to address both infrastructure challenges and ministry needs.
We engaged in an evaluation of our progress in fulfilling the goals of ReVision and determined that although significant progress had been made in these important ministry areas, we still needed to do the critical work of discerning our identity and vision as a congregation. In early 2004, an in-depth congregational assessment with nationally known consultant Tom Bandy supported that decision.
Ruach and Renewal, the extensive visioning process which West End has undertaken, has provided many opportunities for meaningful conversation around our identity, beliefs and values as members of Christ’s body at West End UMC. During the fall and winter of 2005 we entered a phase of listening for God’s voice through STREAMS OF LISTENING and then through Vision Casting Groups.
A Vision Convocation made up of 40 West End laity and staff entered into three Saturdays of worshipful work, practicing communal discernment, seeking God’s transforming vision for our congregation's future. The vision was received with much joy and expressed this way: God is calling us to be and become The Loving Light of Christ: Connecting, Transforming!
Senior Pastors at West End
|1873-1874||Fountain E. Pitts|
|1874||J. M. Sharp|
|1874-1878||William M. Green|
|1878-1881||J. W. Hill|
|1881-1882||Robert A. Young|
|1882||H. M. McKnight|
|1882-1883||R. R. Jones|
|1883-1884||R. T. Nabors|
|1884||J. E. Harrison|
|1885-1887||W. M. Leftwich|
|1890-1893||R. K. Brown|
|1893-1894||S. A. Steele|
|1894||W. M. Leftwich|
|1895-1898||W. H. Cotton|
|1898-1902||E. B. Chappell|
|1906-1910||C. W. Byrd|
|1910-1914||D. C. Detwiler|
|1914-1918||George A. Morgan|
|1933-1944||Costen J. Harrell*|
|1944-1960||James W. Henley*|
|1960-1967||Ben B. St. Clair|
|1967-1980||Roy C. Clark*|
|1980-1994||Russell T. Montfort|
|1999-2007||J. Thomas Laney|
|2007-2010||David Lowes Watson|
* Were appointed Bishop upon leaving West End.