History & Mission of St. James UMC of Danville, IL

Our Mission

“Remember-Rejoice-Renew” has been the theme of St. James 100th Anniversary Celebration throughout 2019. This directory will help us remember all that God has done through the people called Methodist since their arrival in the late 1820’s. We rejoice in all that God continues to do today through the ministry of this great congregation as we reach out to touch, bless, serve, and heal our community. We believe God will renew our faithfulness to the mission of making disciples.

The mission of St James Umc is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of Danville and the world.

Play Video

A Brief History of St. James United Method Church of Danville, Illinois

Celebrating over 100 Years!


One hundred years before the building of St. James Methodist Church, Circuit Riders roamed the prairies of Illinois and Indiana. The early circuit preachers had multiple stations, visited weekly with long hours on horseback or in a buggy, enduring extreme weather conditions. They relied on settlers for supplies. They frequently carried news and often the mail. They received limited pay that was many times in the form of care for their horses. In 1829 Sam Whitman was appointed leader of the Methodist Episcopal congregation in Danville and meetings were held in homes.


On February 2, 1836 the first deed for the Methodist Episcopal Church was issued. The first building was erected in 1837 on the corner of North and Vermilion Streets at a cost of $800. This building is pictured in a stained-glass window in the current chapel. The women sat on benches on the right side of the church and the men sat on benches on the left side with the aged ones in the “Amen corners”.

Peter Cartwright was a revivalist in the early 1800s who was ordained by Francis Asbury and William McKendree in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1806. He served as a military chaplain during the war of 1812, was District Superintendent for 35 years and rode the circuit for over 50 years. Cartwright referred to himself as “God’s Plowman” because he covered a district of 400 miles across the west side of the Grand Prairie. He was a founding member of the Illinois Methodist Annual Conference in 1824. He reportedly earned the title of “Father of Illinois Methodism”. Cartwright promoted Methodist education and helped to found McKendree College, Illinois Wesleyan University and MacMurray College. He describes his conversion in his 1857 Autobiography of Peter Cartwright.


 In 1857, the second church building was erected on the same site and cost $13,500. The new building was 60’ x 120’, made of brick and had a steeple with a bell to call people to worship. It was dedicated on July 4, 1857 by Peter Cartwright and was named the North Street Church. The old church building was moved to the Southwest corner of Hazel and North streets and was used for a blacksmith shop.

The North Street Church continued to grow. Sunday evening services started by early candlelight and lasted into the night. The church started the Independent Mission Sunday School in a little white school house in Tinchertown in the West part of Danville. The school was under the direction of Superintendent Joseph English. The Sunday school had 500 people in nine different classes. Annual Conference was reportedly held in Danville for the first time in 1859

History Page 1 Pic 4 North
North Street Church 1857


In 1869, Joseph English refused to continue to serve unless the name of the church was changed. In February 1869 a new society was formed with 20 members. On March 18, 1869, Enoch Jones was appointed preacher of the new church. A new frame building on the Southwest corner of Gilbert and Seminary was dedicated November 18, 1869 and was named in honor of Reverend I. C. Kimber. On June 15, 1883 the Kimber Methodist Episcopal Church dedicated a new, brick building on the Northeast corner of Franklin and Seminary at a cost of $25,000.


In 1886,  the trustees of the North Street church purchased a lot on the Southeast corner of Vermilion and Williams for $4,189. On October, 1887 the cornerstone for the new church was laid. The church was to cost $40,000. Bishop J.P. Newman dedicated the newly named First Methodist Episcopal Church on September 2, 1888.


The First Methodist and Kimber Methodist congregations both continued to grow. In order to become a member, there was a probationary period of 6 months and if at the end of that time they were deemed worthy of membership they were received into full membership of the Methodist Church.

History Page 1 Pic 3 Kimber
Kimber Church 1883


On February 28, 1909 Kimber Methodist Episcopal had a special service to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Ten years later in 1919 the congregations of First and Kimber joined together to form a new church. The two congregations were reunited. Dr. Harry McPherson was the pastor and the trustees began planning for future growth. As membership in this newly united church family grew, the need for a larger building also grew. The resolution of organization advised that the united group should have a new name, a new building and a new location. St. James Methodist Episcopal Church was the name adopted. Land was then purchased from the School Board for $50,000.


The Kimber Methodist Building was sold to the Nazarenes for $10,000 and the First Methodist building was sold to Standard Oil Company for $40,000. The decision was then made to erect a new larger church home on the Northwest corner of Vermilion and Williams streets. A successful building fund campaign resulted in creation of a Building Committee that included wife of House Speaker Joe Cannon, and the hiring of renowned architect Harvey Skadden. Mr. Skadden spent two years in the design and drawings of the church before the process of building started. Former Houser Speaker “Uncle Joe” Cannon, at the age of 90, turned the first spade of dirt at groundbreaking. The Church’s cornerstone was laid on August 22, 1926.


The first service of St. James Methodist Episcopal Church, in our current building was held after the full congregation walked shoulder-to-shoulder across the street from the former church location to the new building. This service was held in the Community Room May 22, 1927. A dedication service was held in October 1927. The cost of building St. James, including the lot, the organ, and the furnishings was $352,745.


Making the walk from the old church to the new church in 1927 were some names familiar to many. Included were: John Cooke, Ken Erskine, William Wayland, Jr., Lou Ann Wayland Young, Harry Cox, Clara Neupert Thornton, Jack Millikin, Marguerite Wilson Frazee, Jean Stephens Moody, Helen Groen Potter, and Phil Coffing.

History Page 2 Pic 1
First Church 1887


In 1937, the depression was in full swing and St. James and other Methodist churches around the country were in financial trouble. For five years, St. James had not been able to pay some of its bills which included interest on the loan. The Danville Benefit and Building Association held the notes and mortgages and was threatening to foreclose on the church real estate. The Association finally recognized that a foreclosed church was “not suitable for any commercial purpose”. A decision was made to revise the loan to $130,000 to be paid off over a period of years at no interest until the loan was paid in full. The good news was that this loan was paid off several years before the termination date. To help attain that goal church members as well as many community members donated money for debt retirement and their names were incorporated into a St. James quilt, which is on display in the church today.

Another item of interest is the old communion set that in 1943 was located on the mantel in the parlor. At that time, it was approximately 100 years old and was used many decades in the old First Church. On moving into the new church, it was sent to Reed and Barton’s to be re-silvered so that it might be preserved as a memorial. Reed and Barton recognized by the marking on it that it was the third set sent out by their firm and they were delighted to service it free of charge.

The following events at St. James, listed in chronological order, are noted by the time frame in which they occurred:


Dr. John W. R. Sumwalt and Dr. Arthur P. Jordan were the pastors in the late 40’s. Our first associate pastor, Harold Guenther was appointed to St. James in 1947. The services were broadcast over WDAN radio.

In 1948, there was a fund drive to raise $50,000 to make the Church debt free by paying off the mortgages on the church and the parsonage at 418 N. Franklin Street. The Women’s Society of Christian Service, (WSCS), contributed an additional $15,000 which had been set aside for this purpose. A mortgage-burning ceremony was held with great rejoicing by 1,200 members and friends of St. James. The Kum Dubble Class celebrated their 25th anniversary in February 1948.


The lead pastor for most of the 50’s was Dr. Paul M. Curry with George Hunt, Lewis Root and John Shaffer serving as associate pastors.


The mortgage for the 1023 Grant Street parsonage was retired in August 1950.

During February and March of 1952 an all-city revival was held in Danville. People of all faiths came together to be a part of this almost 2-week event. On one night over 1700 people met in St. James Methodist Church, crowding into the hallway for a 2 ½ hour revival meeting. Crowds grew to 2,600 before the revivalist, Hyman Appleman moved on to his next commitment in Detroit, Michigan.


January 18, 1953 the 3M Sunday School class was started. (3M stands for Mr., Mrs., and Miss.). This was a very active class with and the class participating in several city activities. The main one was the annual Christmas parade held by the City of Danville. They ran into different problems, such as the lighting system not working properly on their float, but eventually won first place in the Danville Churches Division in 1957 and 1958. They also joined the Order of Joseph of Arimathea for the establishment of 10 new churches in the Illinois Conference. This was through the Illinois Conference Board of Missions and Church Extension.


During 1957 there was a St. James Kindergarten class being held at the church Monday thru Thursday mornings.


There were 10 circles of the Women’s Society meeting on a regular basis.


Selling the parsonage on Franklin Street allowed the current parsonage at 1104 W. Voorhees to be built, and Rev. Paul Curry and family moved into it as the first residents.


The lead pastors for the 60’s were the Dr. Paul M. Curry followed by Dr. Richard M. Newhall. Associate pastors were John Shaffer, C. Earl Livengood and Loren Campbell. 


The bulletins for these years show the Boy Scouts were meeting at the church regularly and they participated in a 50 years of service Sunday, February 7, 1960 


St. James Kindergarten was going strong with only a few openings available annually. 


There were Intermediate and Senior MYF groups, and youth and adult basketball teams played teams from other churches.


The parsonage on Grant Street was sold and a larger home at 1507 Chandler was purchased. This was to be the Associate Pastor’s home.


On April 23, 1968 the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged to become the United Methodist Church. Therefore, we are today St. James United Methodist Church. The Reverends Don Farrell, Ken Cox and Randy Robinson were former Evangelical United Brethren pastors before the unification of the two denominations.


During this time period Danville experienced a steady decline in business, industry, and population. While our congregation declined in membership, the church always moved forward. St. James is a church that reaches out to the community.

The Women’s Circles have held their annual bazaar and those profits go to support Methodist charities such as Cunningham Children’s Home


St. James hosts the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. service and dinner.


The Marines use our community room for the distribution of Toys for Tots.


For 10 years we served sack lunches to neighboring school children.


Each December the DHS music department brings a Medieval treat to our community room with their Madrigal dinner.



One of the biggest changes to the church during these years was the upgrading of our organ. A committee was formed in 1979 by Rev. Arthur Runyon. It was determined the old Moller organ was not meeting the music worship goals. Committee chairmen Bill Acton and Charles Hall had the organ evaluated and considered bids from several area companies. While the vote for a completely new organ was as close as five votes among the congregation, it was decided that some of the old organ would be used. The Paul Buzzard Organ Craftsmen, Inc. used 21 of the Moller pipes and added many more to create 69 ranks of pipes across 4 manual keyboards and pedals. The new organ contains 4,000 pipes and it cost $198,550. An article in the News-Gazette called it “one of the largest in the area”. Dave Schroeder was the organist at the time, and the organ was dedicated in a special service on January 17,1988.


Shortly after our building was completed, Boy Scout Troop 3 under scoutmaster G. Haven Stephens, began meeting here. Over the years many scouts attended meetings and ventured forth to camp. Their gear was stored below the stage, an area now given over to food pantry storage. The Methodist Men’s group sponsored the troop, helped with expenses, and paid for many boys to attend camp. This troop disbanded in the early 2000’s. In 2019 a new Cub Scout group has been organized at St. James and is led by Brad Fleehearty.


The youth groups during these years worked on many Appalachian and Sierra Service Projects, traveling to places such as New Madrid, Missouri and a Hopi Indian reservation in Arizona called Kykomovi Village, to work on homes of the poor and handicapped. This was a great experience for our young people and their leaders. 


Another outreach opportunity came as the Vietnam War wound down and refugees were trying to flee that country. St. James sponsored two families, paying for them to come to Danville and helping them find work and homes. This proved to be a very successful sponsorship. The Heyworth Concerts are another example of opening our doors to the community. Ms. Frances Heyworth wanted to bring musical performances for all to enjoy. In her will she provided a trust for this purpose and as a result many concerts, featured singers, solo instrumentalists and musical groups have graced St. James sanctuary, providing a wonderful cultural gift to Danville!


In 1995, McKinley United Methodist membership was incorporated into St. James.


St. James has evolved into a Church that reaches beyond its doors. Our church is home to The MLK Celebration, Toys for Tots, Danville Barbershop Chorus, DHS Madrigals, Lions Club Fundraisers, and many other events. Everyone is welcome into our church! One of the biggest changes in recent years is the addition of the 11:20 Contemporary service. When Pastor Randy Robinson and Pastor Justin Snider arrived at St. James in 2011, many people asked for a contemporary service. After much thought and prayers, they came up with a new, different and casual service designed for those with little or no church background. The 11:20 service is currently blessed with approximately 80 individuals who attend.


In 2008, the St. James Food Pantry was established to meet an overwhelming concern for feeding the needy in our community. This program currently serves over 325 families and 1,400 individuals on a monthly basis. Families, who might otherwise go hungry, are welcomed into our church as we serve them, just as Jesus would do. Serving in this well-organized mission is a humbling, but also rewarding experience.


Kids Hope is a mentoring program that provides a positive student adult relationship in the lives of children who might otherwise not have a close, caring person to turn to. Several members of St. James are active in this outreach program and have attested to its positive effect and lasting friendships with children in our local schools.

St. James continues to sponsor children’s activities with summer water events, Vacation Bible School, Easter events, Pumpkin Patch, Angel Tree and Coat Drive. Our youth have held fundraisers to sponsor an orphan from the Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Village. We also send “care packages” to our college students and active military families.


In August, 2012, a Vision Team of five members began meeting to plan for the church’s future, in response to 15 small group gatherings where the congregation provided much impetus for building renovation. In July, 2015, after three years of visioning and planning, a  special session of the church conference approved a renovation and expansion plan that would be the first change to St. James’ “footprint” in 90 years. A fundraising initiative, Fan The Flame, was launched and raised over $1.5 million. The congregation’s vision of accessibility “in and out and up and down” in order to attract younger and more diverse people included a large covered portico, ground level entrance, reception area/foyer, offices, conference room, common area and elevator as major features. This renovation reflects the welcoming and inclusive spirit reflected in our motto Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.


Through the years the influence of St. James has been felt throughout the community, Its members are found in places of responsibility in all good causes: relief work, health centers, wholesome recreation, etc. Its work reaches around the world. St. James’ values are reflected in this statement from 1943: “I am the church of God. Through me the Master’s voice is calling,  ‘Come walk with me today.’ My foundations are strong: immovable I stand, friend of all both rich and poor, to heal a wounded world, to bring peace on earth. I am the Church of the living God.” 


Pastor Timeline

Lead Pastors

1819-1823: Harry McPherson

1923-1932: Thomas N. Ewing

1932-1935: Charles R. Ross

1935-1938: Weldon E. Bradburn

1938-1946: John W.R. Sumwalt

1946-1952: Arthur P. Jordan

1952-1967: Paul M. Curry

1967-1975: Richard M. Newhall

1975-1983: Robert S. White

1983-1986: Arthur Runyan

1986-1988: Jack Travelstead

1988-1997: C. Don Ferrill

1997-2004: Russell D. Smith

2004-2011: Kenneth A. Cox

2011-Present: Randall L. Robinson

Associate Pastors

1947-1953: Harold Guenther

1953-1956: George Hunt

1956-1958: Lewis Root

1959-1962: Leonard Sutton

1963-1969: C. Earl Livengood

1969-1972: Edwin Jernigan

1971-1978: James Williams

1978-1985: J. Gerald Nichols

1986-1988: Bryce D. Hays

1988-1992: Nicholas Showalter

1998-2003: Roosevelt S. Smith II

1999-2011: Tiffany Black

2011-2018: Justin Snider

2018-Present: Gregory J. Boylan

Open Hearts - Open Minds - Open Doors

Skip to content