Methodist History: First Father's Day at Church

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The congregation at Central United Methodist Church in Fairmont, West Va. celebrates Father's Day in a special way each year. They hear the story of the first Father's Day service in the U.S., which was held in their town on July 5,1908 after a Methodist church member suggested the idea. Her congregation found it important to heed the commandment to "honor thy father and thy mother."  Current church member Don Downs says it's still true today, "That says a lot about what the Methodists feel about families, probably the most important thing other than God."  In this exclusive video, take a visit to the historic site.

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in 1972, Father's Day became an official U.S. holiday, to be held on the third Sunday in June.

Two Methodist women are credited with creating the Mother's Day holiday in the U.S.

Learn more about the history of The United Methodist Church

In addition to Father's Day, International Men's Day is celebrated in many countries on November 19 for men and boys who are not fathers. 

This video was produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN. Media contact is Joe Iovino.
This video was first posted on June 13, 2015.

Script

Reenactor speaks at church:  “I am Reverend Fletcher Golden, the father who inspired Father’s Day.”

Every year, there’s a living history lesson at Central United Methodist Church in the small town of Fairmont, West Virginia.

Blain Taylor: “I was surprised to learn about this because I never knew Father’s Day was created in Fairmont. We don’t have that much here.”

Reenactor speaks:  “The day of July the 5th was chosen…”

The church’s former pastor, the Rev. D.D. Meighen, dresses up and brings to life the story of the first Father’s Day church service, a source of pride for this congregation.

Don Downs: “That says a lot about what the Methodists feel about families, probably the most important thing other than God.”

Jordan and Katie Darnell: “It really does make it feel like a tight-knit family, friends and fellowship church.”

On July 5th, 1908, a service honoring fathers took place at Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church, which later became Central United Methodist.

Today, a Father’s Day room in the church is filled with artifacts about the big event.

The inspiration came from Grace Golden Clayton, the youngest of 11 children born to an ordained Methodist pastor.

In the early 1900’s, Clayton lived here with her husband and children in the middle of West Virginia coal country, when tragedy struck nearby.

Voice of the Rev. D.D. Meighen: “On December the 6th, 1907, the deadliest mining accident in history rocked this little town of Monongah, seven miles from Fairmont, killing more than 360 men.”

Dora Kay Grubb: “The vibrations were felt in three or four towns...that left over 1000 children without anybody to support them.  It really brings home how precious your father is to you.”

The Rev. D.D. Meighen: “Grace Golden Clayton suggested to her minister, Dr. Thomas Webb, that a service be held to honor all those men who had died in the mines.”

Clayton chose the date July 5 because it was the Sunday closest to her father’s birthday.

The Rev. Fletcher Golden had passed away about 10 years earlier. He had been a loving father, a self-taught man who served appointments at nearby Methodist churches after serving as a justice of the peace and a soldier in the civil war.

There’s no church bulletin from the 1908 Father’s Day service, but two letters confirm it happened.

Don Downs: “My grandfather was Ward Downs…and he is the one member who remembers the actual service, and he reported in a letter to the senator from the 3rd district of West Virginia….to make Father’s Day a national holiday.”

The Hallmark greeting card company researched the claim and confirmed it in a letter to the church.

Grace Clayton did not live to see the results of her work.  She died in 1958, 14 years before President Richard Nixon designated a holiday for fathers in the U.S.

Reenactor speaks:  “The history of this event is etched into our heritage…”

This congregation doesn’t claim to have popularized the day, that happened because of efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd in Spokane, Washington in 1910.  But church members do take credit for giving Father’s Day its first religious celebration.

Asa Davison: “You know, Father’s Day is a great day and they’ve never had any recognition….as a United Methodist, I am very proud.”

The Rev. Hal Hevener: “I think it says that we are interested in people.   We want to be there for them and do what we can to help them in good times and in bad times.”