Boston Avenue UMC
The Boston Avenue United Methodist Church is a Christian community rich in history, vibrant in the present and enthusiastic about the future.
Tulsa was just a small trading post town in Indian Territory when the Rev. E. B. Chenoweth arrived with his wife and infant son in November 1893, to organize the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Though the Civil War had officially reunited the Union and Confederate states in 1865, the Methodist church was still divided over the issue of slavery (and would remain divided into the 1930s).
Rev. Chenoweth settled his family in a dugout, rounded up seven congregation members, and began monthly meetings in the nearby Presbyterian mission. The following summer, they built a brush arbor with pews made of railroad ties and started sending money to foreign missions. A small frame building was completed later that year, and the little congregation had its first real home! The Chenoweths also moved into a real home, just in time – their dugout collapsed later that evening!
The little church struggled to grow until church member Dr. Fred Clinton and his partner, Dr. J.C.W. Bland, struck oil in 1901. Prospectors began pouring in, and the church started growing rapidly. It outgrew a second building, and in late 1906, a large, red brick church building with tall white columns was constructed at Fifth and Boston. The congregation changed its name to “Boston Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, South.”
Boston Avenue members were active in the community, as well as in their church. Dr. Clinton established the first hospital and training school for nurses, while his wife, Jane Heard Clinton, was a founding member of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society, the Ruskin Art Club, Hyechka Club, Tulsa Garden Club, Children’s Day Nursery, and Tulsa Symphony Orchestra Association. She also persuaded city leaders to build a convention hall, now known as the Tulsa Theatre.
Another member, C. C. Cole, was instrumental in creating the first Y.M.C.A. in Tulsa. His wife, Audrey, founded Tulsa’s Shakespeare Club and would later be instrumental in creating Boston Avenue’s new, art deco building at Thirteenth and Boston.
Sunday School classes had always been divided – one class for men and another for women – until church members went to the presiding bishop in 1920 to request permission to start a couple’s class. The resulting Married Folks Class was a huge success, growing to include over 1200 members at its peak.
A Young Matron’s Missionary Society was formed the following year, and the pastor’s wife established a missionary endowment fund to assist the church’s medical missionaries in Bolivia. Boy Scout Troop 20, Tulsa’s oldest continuously-active troop, was founded at the church in 1922.
By the mid-1920’s, the height of the oil boom, Boston Avenue’s congregation had outgrown this building as well. Land was purchased at Thirteenth and Boston, and the resulting art deco building, designed by artist Dr. Adah Robinson, is still occupied by the congregation to this day. The first worship service in the new sanctuary was held on June 9, 1929 – less than four months later, the stock market crashed.
With the Great Depression of the 1930’s, church members struggled to keep the church open and make payments on the building. One family, the C.C. Coles, sold their large home and moved into one of their smaller rental houses in order to keep up their church pledge and that of Cole’s brother.
In 1933 the church almost became a theater when members were no longer able to meet their obligation. A delegation was sent to Lincoln National Life Insurance in Nebraska to ask for an extension on the loan. Lenders agreed, but only if the church could persuade Dr. Forney Hutchinson from Arkansas to come as their pastor. Hutchinson agreed – but only if the church, deep in debt, would support a foreign missionary. Desperate church members agreed to somehow provide $1,000 a year for a missionary in Cuba, and the money came in to cover it.
In 1935, Boston Avenue women discovered that there were no provisions to supply milk for babies in need, so they started a Babies’ Milk Fund to provide those babies with milk every day for a year. The program, which continued for 42 years, grew to include community support and funding from an annual benefit wrestling match at Tulsa’s Colosseum.
The Methodist Church was finally reunited in 1939, but the North and South churches in Tulsa, just a block apart, were both strong congregations. Both continue to this day.
World War II began two years later, and by 1943 over 300 church members, men and women, were serving in the military. The church hosted a USO during the war, and a new young adult class was founded for returning servicemen and their wives.
Dr. Bascom Watts was appointed to Boston Avenue in 1939, and the building was finally dedicated, debt-free, in 1946. Air conditioning was added in 1950, and over $36,000 was given to support World Service missions, the Babies’ Milk Fund, Retired Ministers’ Fund, and area missions. The church also began supporting Rev. Murray Dickson and his wife in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and provided a $10,000 home and $2400 annual salary for them there. Over $200,000 went to benevolent causes under Watts’ leadership.
Dr. Paul Galloway became the senior pastor in 1950, and his sermons were televised during that decade. The church began observing Race Relations Sunday in 1960. Galloway would become Boston Avenue’s second pastor to be elected bishop by the denomination in 1960, and his successor, Dr. Finis Crutchfield, would continue working for social justice, housing the first Office of Indian Opportunity at the church.
The church’s missionary, Murray Dickson, died tragically in 1967 and was replaced by Dr. James Alley. Boston Avenue continued its support. The following year the Methodist Church denomination joined with the Evangelical United Brethren to form the United Methodist Church.
Dr. Crutchfield was elected bishop in 1972, and the two succeeding ministers, Dr. Chess Lovern and Dr. John Russell, would both serve only four years at the church before they, too, were elected to the episcopacy.
In 1980 the church brought Dr. Mouzon Biggs, Jr. from Beaumont, Texas, to serve as senior minister. Though he, too, had opportunities to become a bishop, he felt called to continue as a local church pastor instead. His dynamic leadership would benefit Boston Avenue for the next 34 years.
In 1983 Boston Avenue’s Sunday services began being televised live at 11:00 a.m. on KTUL-TV, Channel 8. That ministry continues to this day, benefitting homebound people throughout a four-state area. Dr. Biggs became very active in interfaith relations, hosting ongoing dialogue and trialogue groups for adults and teens through the National Council of Christians and Jews, now known as the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice (OCCJ). The church’s endowments also grew significantly under his leadership.
Rev. David Wiggs has led Boston Avenue for the past ten years, and the church continues to reach out to the Tulsa community and beyond, hosting events such as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Service in January and the starting point for the annual Pride Parade each summer. It continues to send mission teams out throughout the U.S. and around the world and provide ongoing disaster response through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
The church also provides monetary and volunteer support to local missions through Family Promise, the God Provides food ministry at Vernon AME Church, Restore Hope, and a new traveling dental ministry, Smiles of Faith, which will begin in 2023 in cooperation with four other congregations in north Tulsa. One of Boston Avenue’s most successful current ministries is Sistema Tulsa, a social change through music outreach to area children and youth.
Towards The future
As a caring United Methodist congregation dedicated to sharing God’s unconditional love, Boston Avenue warmly welcomes ALL to come worship and participate in any of its various ministries.
Members and visitors alike are challenged to “Think Deeply, Love Generously, and Grow Spiritually” as together we serve God and our neighbors throughout the Tulsa community and beyond.