Pacific, United Methodist Church maintain historic affiliation

black and white drawings of Reverends Edward Bannister, Isaac Owen and William Taylor

Reverends Edward Bannister, Isaac Owen and William Taylor

Founded 172 years ago through the vision of three Methodist ministers, University of the Pacific—California’s first and oldest university—remains the only university in the state affiliated with the United Methodist Church.

On July 10, 1851, Reverends Edward Bannister, Isaac Owen and William Taylor oversaw the signing of the Pacific charter. The university’s history is permeated by a strong association with Methodism—starting in the Bay Area and continuing after the move to Stockton 99 years ago in 1924.

Pacific also maintains its close bond with Central United Methodist Church—part of the California Nevada Methodist Church and an across-the-street neighbor from the Stockton Campus that includes an estimated 60 members (including students) who are affiliated with the university.

The church and university also have a scholarship program to aid Methodist students at Pacific.

What does the affiliation mean? The Rev. Kim Montenegro, director of religious and spiritual life at Pacific, explains:

“The United Methodist Church has a global board of higher education for all the universities and seminaries that are run or are affiliated with the church. There is no oversight from the church. But both the church and Pacific understand there is a special, historic relationship that they want to maintain.”

people walk on sidewalk in front of methodist church

The Central United Methodist Church is located across the street from Pacific's Stockton Campus.

University-church split still left room for continuing relationship

All of Pacific’s 18 presidents prior to Robert Burns in 1946 were Methodist clergy. Burns remained supportive of the university-church relationship. In 1969, however, Burns and university governance faced a critical, faith-related decision that would shape the future.

A case before the United States Supreme Court had the potential to shut off federal funding for church-related colleges and universities. Pacific’s Board of Regents voted to sever the formal relationship with the United Methodist Church in 1969 to help stave off the potential loss of funding. This strategy was adopted by many faith-governed colleges.

As it turned out, the Supreme Court—in a decision that surprised many—voted to keep church-related funding intact. Pacific opted to not change its decision to pull away from Methodist leadership. The United Methodist Church was supportive of Pacific’s decision.

Burns continued to foster ties with the Methodist Church and was instrumental in Central United Methodist purchasing land to locate a new sanctuary close to campus.

Other leaders also helped keep the Methodist ties viable, including Rev. Dr. Larry Meredith, dean of the chapel and a professor of the humanities and religious studies.

He transformed Morris Chapel into the epicenter of campus by creating classes such as Religion and Modern Culture, Life of Jesus, Religion and Sport and Religion and Cinema in addition to welcoming high-profile guest lecturers (including civil rights advocate Angela Davis, farmworkers’ leader Dolores Huerta and ‘Peanuts’ cartoonist Charles Schulz, who often dined with students). Meredith also was active with Central United Methodist and was known for his Christmas carol singing.

Morris Chapel continues to open its doors to create a welcoming space for students of other faiths, including weekly Buddhist meditation and Catholic mass and many other faiths. Montenegro notes “there are many common areas for Central United Methodist and Pacific when it comes to acceptance. Respect for all is an important element that is shared.


Morris Chapel

Morris Chapel

Campus-church bond remains strong and viable

The ties between University of the Pacific and Central United Methodist Church are due to much more than proximity.

A historic moment came in 1964, when a dynamic new church sanctuary was finished. The unique building has a 130-foot steeple and a unique, arching roofline. The university was influential in leading during the planning process for the sanctuary.

“There’s no question that the building has a presence in Stockton,” said Montenegro, who attended the church growing up and later worked there as youth director. “It is very unique outside and is a beautiful place for worship inside.”

The church had many prominent members over the years including Hall of Fame football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pacific President Tully C. Knoles and Don Biddle, who designed and built more than 300 structures used by NASA and for the Hubble Telescope.

The Rev. Gary Putnam, a dynamic presence in the pulpit who served both Central United Methodist Church and Pacific, reflected in a 1999 sermon:

“Steel and stone, brick and mortar do not make a church. People do.”

students sit on the lawn in front of the methodist church

Since 2013, 45 students have received scholarships from the church. 

Bishop’s scholarship supports Pacific students

The Central United Methodist Church Endowed Scholarship for Bishop's Scholars has continued to create a bond between the university and the church.

The Bishop's scholarship can be awarded to Pacific students who are an active member of any United Methodist Church in California, Arizona, Nevada or Hawaii.

During the 2022-23 school year, seven students earned bishop’s scholarships to help pay for college. Since the scholarship’s 2013 creation, 45 students have received aid (scholarships are now $3,000 annually).

“The scholarships are important, and we are pleased that we have been able to keep them going strongly,” said Alan Cook ’77, who retired in 2021 after 15 years as Director of Family Ministries at Central United Methodist. He remains active with his church, alma mater and Stockton’s overall faith community.

“The United Methodist Bishop’s Scholarship is a very generous scholarship that has helped me further pursue my academic career,” said Gianna Mora ’24, who is studying speech-language pathology. “Having a scholarship coming from those who have the same faith as me is a constant reminder for why I am doing what I am doing in my collegiate life and future career.”

To qualify for the scholarship:

  • Students must be an attending member of the church and have financial need.
  • They must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.
  • Continuing undergraduate students will be eligible for the scholarship, up to a maximum of five years. Graduate and transfer students will also be eligible.
  • Ongoing participation in Central United Methodist activities on or off campus will be encouraged.
  • Apply for the scholarship here

Sources consulted in research for this story

  • “Pioneer or Perish: A History of University of the Pacific During the Administration of Dr. Robert E. Burns, 1946-1971” (1977), by Kara Brewer
  • “Our Church is Central,” (1999), by Central United Methodist Church
  • “Pacific on the Rise: The Story of California’s First University,” (2016), by Phil Gilbertson