The Rev. Don Gotham  is UUMC’s current pastor.

The Rev. Don Gotham is UUMC’s current pastor.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

City honors Sterling church for bicentennial

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 19, 2023

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STERLING HEIGHTS — A Sterling Heights-based church whose membership has included participants in some of the United States’ earliest and biggest historical events was recently honored for its longevity.

During a May 1 meeting, the Sterling Heights City Council unanimously approved a resolution in its consent agenda that honors Utica United Methodist Church for 200 years of ministry. The church is currently located on Canal Road in Sterling Heights.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Don Gotham, thanked the city for the proclamation during the meeting and remarked how “we don’t look too tired after that much time.”

Gotham said the church has scheduled and planned multiple events in 2023 to commemorate the occasion, including one June 18 to which congressional and local dignitaries are invited.

The church had kicked off its celebrations with an April 23 visit by its bishop and district superintendent.

“We’ve got plenty of other things coming up,” Gotham said. “We’ve got concerts and other things. Two hundred years is a lot, in terms of accomplishment, and so we felt like we need to celebrate a lot.”

Gotham thanked city officials for being partners over the years, and he invited them to reach out if the city needed a partner, adding that “we’re not planning to go anywhere.”

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor commented on the church’s history during the meeting, calling 200 years “an incredible accomplishment” when compared to Sterling Heights’ 2018 celebration of 50 years as a city.

“The pastor was telling us that one of the founding members of the church fought in the Revolutionary War,” Taylor said. “Another early member of the church was instrumental in the Underground Railroad. So it’s incredible to know that we have such a rich history right here very close to home.”

Sterling Heights’s proclamation says UUMC is one of the oldest churches in the state of Michigan. The church was founded in 1823 in what today is Utica, years before Michigan became a U.S. state in 1837.

“The church was in a couple of different locations,” Gotham told the Sentry after the meeting. “Initially, they started out meeting in members’ barns.”

According to the church, its first church building was built in 1839, and in 1855, it was moved in pieces to where the building still stands today, in Utica on Cass Avenue. That building is currently used by Light & Life Arabic Free Methodist Church.

UUMC relocated its worship to its current location — in what was then Sterling Township — in 1965.

According to records, the church’s first minister was the Rev. Elias Pattee, and one of the five founding members was Revolutionary War veteran Nathaniel Squire.

Other past members include Charles Kidd and Andrew Runyan — both served during the Civil War — and Peter and Sarah Lerich, who presided over a farm safehouse that was part of the abolitionist Underground Railroad.

According to Gotham, UUMC currently has around 220 members, though he said that additional constituents put the total congregation at around 300. He explained the “eye opening” impact that the anniversary has had on the congregation.

He said that while the church’s history is rich, members don’t want to worship the past.

“We want to take the lessons that we ourselves have learned, and those who have come before us, and carry those over into vibrant ministry in the future,” Gotham said.

Sterling Heights’ proclamation says the church’s community involvement includes Sterling SHINE neighborhood cleanups, school extracurriculars, Scouting, blood drives, work with the Macomb County Rotating Emergency Shelter Team, and more.

Learn more about Utica United Methodist Church, 8650 Canal Road, by visiting or by calling (586) 731-7667.

Call Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at (586) 498-1058.