In the beginning...
The West Heights United Methodist Church was founded in response to a religious needs survey in the mid-1950s in the communities of Westlink, Rolling Hills, Country Acres and the surrounding area. With the survey results showing a need for a new church, preliminary meetings were held in July 1956, and worship services soon began at Peterson School. Just five weeks later, church school classes for all ages were established. In September 1956, Rev. Gene S. Seeley became the first minister of West Heights, and the official organizational meetings, led by District Superintendent Dr. Otto F. Volkland, took place in November 1956 with the reception of 18 charter members. The church's first meeting place was a residential property at 9812 Birch Lane, which was later repurposed as a parsonage. In October 1957, Rev. Irvin A. Unruh became the new minister for the growing church.
Building Program – Phase I
On January 5, 1958, the ground-breaking service for the first unit of the church was held with Dr. Otto F. Volkland officiating. With 54 members having joined the church and becoming the designated charter members, the excitement for the new building was palpable. The corner stone was laid on August 17, 1958, with Dr. Raymond E. Dewey, District Superintendent, presiding over the ceremony. The first services in the South wing were held on September 7, 1958, to the delight of the 250 members. The new sanctuary/fellowship hall, kitchen, and six classrooms were met with great satisfaction, and the Birch Lane property became the new parsonage.
Building Program – Phase II
In the fall of 1960, construction began on additional educational space. At that time, the church was thriving with over 400 members, an average attendance of 300, and 325 students enrolled in the church school. On June 2, 1963, Rev. Charles M. Curtis was appointed as the new minister. On May 23, 1964, plans for a new sanctuary and additional educational facilities were shared with the congregation, marking an exciting new chapter in the growth of the church.
Building Program – Phase III
On June 1, 1966, Rev. George T. Gardner took on the role of pastor. The new sanctuary saw its construction commence on August 6, 1967, with the cornerstone laying ceremony taking place on March 24, 1968. Worship services in the new sanctuary began on April 10, 1968. Over the next few years, several pastors provided leadership, including Jim Pohl, Wayne Castle, Jack Ropp, Keith Williamson, Cecil Findley, and Rev. Sam Muyskens. During this time, the church welcomed an Associate Pastor, Rev. Wenners Ballard, and added additional part-time lay staff to support visitation, education, and youth ministries. In 1986, Judy Castor joined the church as the full-time Director of Christian Education.
With two pressing needs at hand - additional staff and expanded educational and activity space, including an urgent need for a better-equipped kitchen - the congregation of West Heights United Methodist Church came together in February 1993. During an All-Church Conference, they added an Associate Pastor to the team, bringing the total staff to three, and approved plans to double the size of the church facilities. This included new classrooms, staff offices, a multi-purpose activity center, and a modern kitchen. With successful financing in place, the congregation was ready for their next big step of faith.
BUILDING PROGRAM – PHASE IV
In 1994, the final plans for expanding the church facilities were presented by the architect. By the following year, construction was underway and by October, the connection between the Education building and the Sanctuary was ready for use. By January 1996, the project was completed and the congregation was filled with a sense of excitement and new possibilities as they approached their 40th anniversary. With the new expansion, they now had the space to continue and grow their activities.
The church continued to grow in the following decade (1996-2006), with an expanded Youth program and preschool. However, in the following decade (2006-2016), a decline in attendance was observed, which seemed to align with a wider trend in the Methodist Church.
The congregation at West Heights embarked on a new journey in 2012 with a Capital Campaign aimed at addressing pressing needs. The focus was on retiring debt, modernizing the heating and air conditioning system, repairing the steeple, enhancing the lighting and sound in the Sanctuary, and completing the basement with a music center. Through their unwavering efforts, the campaign was a resounding success and a number of important upgrades were realized.
Since 2016, the West Heights United Methodist Church has shifted its focus to become more "neighborhood" oriented, with an increased emphasis on outreach and community involvement. In an effort to connect with those outside the church, exciting new initiatives were introduced, such as Pickleball and events like Trunk or Treat and Party in the Park. The congregation also refocused on missions, forming a mission team and starting various new programs, including the successful Family Promise, which aimed to end homelessness among families. Despite the lack of funding for the music center in the Capital Campaign, the church remained committed to its plans and finally, in January 2019, construction began on the Ellan Muyskens Fine Arts Center. Additionally, the church introduced a new Wednesday Evening service called "The 5:43 Mixr" that has seen consistent growth. West Heights United Methodist Church is a dynamic and active community that offers a wide range of programs, including Youth and Children's activities, music programs, bells, missions, Sunday morning services, preschool, United Methodist Women, book studies, family bingo and much more.