In 1845 several families that recently had come from Germany to Clay County organized the Arley church, originally called the Bethel German Methodist Episcopal Church of First Prairie. One of the oldest German-speaking Methodist congregations established west of the Mississippi River, members met in their homes for some time. The congregations at First Prairie (Arley), Zoar (Liberty), Line Creek (Parkville) and Weston made up the Weston circuit. Heinrich Nuelson, who organized First Prairie and Weston, served as the first preacher. During the mid-1850s, growth in membership led to the erection of a two-room building, northwest of present-day Kearney. One room was used for services and the other as the occasional living quarters for the preacher.
During the Civil War, German Methodism advanced slowly in Clay County. The congregation continued to hold Sunday school and services despite threats from Southern sympathizers and conditions which prevented the preacher from visiting the church. However, in 1862, the churches in the circuit – Arley, Zoar, Cameron and Line Creek – conducted revival services and received 43 converts, 29 of whom became members.
The young people of the congregation started a movement to build a new church in 1876. By fall, subscriptions totaled some $738. The white frame structure with handmade benches, a pulpit in the west end and a belfry was completed in July 1877, on a half-acre of land deeded by Jacob and Mary Hessel. The congregation retained the previous building across the road as a residence for the pastor. The first burial in the Arley cemetery occurred in 1881.
During the 1890s the church experienced several changes. In 1893, a youth group organized and three years later became the Epworth League. Reverend H. A. Hohenwald became the church’s first full-time minister and the name of the church changed to Arley in 1894. The following year the congregation added the north wing to the building and began annual camp meetings which continued until 1917. In 1899 a parsonage was erected on an adjoining lot. The Arley church flourished during the first two decades of the 1900s. The congregation acquired an organ, a bell for the tower and additional land to enlarge the churchyard and cemetery. In 1920 membership in the church peaked at 150. Six years later the Arley church, along with other former German churches, became part of the English-speaking conference of the Methodist church.
For many years members had realized the need for additional space for the Sunday school and social gatherings. In 1947, the church completed construction of a basement and installed a furnace. Since that time the building has been will maintained. In 1972-1973, the congregation completely redecorated the church and added carpeting. Projects of the church during the bicentennial celebration included publication of a church history and recognition, by the Clay County Landmarks Commission, of the church as a historic site. The Arley United Methodist Church, one of the oldest former German Methodist congregations in continues existence in western Missouri, values its heritage and strives to shape the future of the community in a time of transition from a rural to urban area.
Reproduced from Missouri Historical Review, for October, 1978, quarterly journal of the State Historical Society of Missouri, and donated in May, 1980, to the Arley United Methodist Church by Orin F. Nolting, member of the Arley Church, 1913 to 1924, and elected an Honorary Member in 1977.