Dr. Keith L. Somerville was named Senior Pastor on July 1, 2019. He is the husband of Mrs. Jessica Somerville. Under Pastor Keith's leadership, Riverside has revived to become one of the great beacons of light in Third Ward and beyond. With the resurgence of the Outreach ministry, and several community partners, Riverside provides hundreds of meals to deserving families every month. We also continue to share health nutrition classes through the Food for Change Food Market and host Community Health Worker classes in collaboration with the University of Houston Honors College. In 2019, we launched a partnership with Texas Southern University to provide free parenting classes for the community. Riverside also has several new initiatives, including the drive-thru vaccine clinics with the Texas Annual Conference Church and Community Health Initiative and Thompson Elementary. In addition, Dr. Somerville works with the University of Houston School of Medicine, serving on their Institutional Review Board to represent the Third Ward Community. In the Fall of 2020, Riverside plans to partner with Generation One to launch a Children's Center on campus. Riverside also hopes to provide mental health resources through Riverside C.A.R.E.S. in the Fall of 2023.
Riverside United Methodist church was founded on June 25, 1939 by a group of 21 people living in the Riverside and University Oaks area. Services were initially led by Rev. Harry Rankin at Sutton Elementary School.
In 1939, Rev. Robert E. Goodrich, Jr. was appointed Riverside’s first full-time minister.
A new chapel was constructed and formally dedicated on June 6, 1940. This was facilitated by the purchase of land at the corner of North MacGregor Way and St. Bernard, which is now Cullen Boulevard, by Mr. and Mrs. George Moore.
Rev. Ben Lehmberg was named pastor in 1944. During this time there was tremendous growth in the community and in Riverside’s congregation. An educational unit was added to the church plant in 1947.
The present day sanctuary was dedicated on May 20, 1951. The completion of the educational building and the dedication of the tower and chimes occurred in 1956. At this time Riverside’s membership reached more than 1,800 members. During the 1950’s Riverside was shepherded by Rev. Ed Mathison, Rev. Grady Hallonquist, and Rev. Derwood Blackwell.
On June 1, 1966, Foster Place Methodist Church officially merged with Riverside. The burning of the mortgage ceremony was held on May 28, 1967. This was made possible by finance efforts of the membership, including gifts made by Colonel Joseph Thurman Long, Jr. and Mr. J.H. Kurth, Jr. and financial assets from Foster Place Methodist Church.
On May 15 1966, Dr. and Mrs. George Morton became the first African Americans to become members of Riverside.
Rev. Homer Fort and Rev. M. Keith Kellow lead Riverside during the decade of the 1960’s.
During the 1970’s, Riverside’s membership became more diverse. The congregation consisted of members from the inner city, university community and suburbia. Vietnamese, Mexican-American and African –Americans were among those attending worship services. For several years, Riverside had an active nursery school and partnered with Model Cities to establish a publically funded nursery school to serve the greater community.
Our minister during the 1970’s included Rev. Ernest Phifer, Rev. Robert Langham, Jr. and Rev. Donald Goodwin.
During the decade of the 1970’s, Rev. Curtis Weaver and Rev. Simon Snell became the first African American associate ministers at Riverside. The Rev. Art Parra was the first Latino associate minister.
Rev. Robert Hayes, Jr. became Riverside’s first African-American minister. After the appointment of Rev. Hayes, there was a shift in membership. There was a decrease in white membership and an increase in African-American families joining Riverside. Rev. Hayes was later selected to become Bishop of the Oklahoma Episcopal Area (the Oklahoma and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Annual Conference). In 1988, the sale of a portion of church’s parking lot to the University of Houston helped to establish a permanent endowment for maintenance of the facility.
Rev. Dr. Mary Jane Van Dussen became Riverside’s first female pastor in 1994. She was instrumental in extending the alter rails in the sanctuary. This allowed for performances by groups such as the Ebony Opera Guild to take place within the sanctuary. Former University of Houston basketball coach Guy V. Lewis gifted a concert baby grand piano to Riverside. During this time, Riverside observed a decline in the number of families joining the church.
Rev. Vincent Harris led Riverside from 2000-2004. He established a contemporary worship service in addition to our traditional worship service. There was resistance by some members of the congregation to the change in worship style. The contemporary worship service was later discontinued and a blended service was established.
During this time, there was conflict within the membership concerning the use of the permanent endowment to pay for much needed repairs to the church. With approval by the Conference, the use of the endowment improved the physical plant, initiated the housing of the Monarch Child Development Center and establishing a children’s playground.
In 2005, Rev. Marilyn White became Riverside’s first African-American female minister. During her tenure, there was a growth in membership and an increased emphasis on spirituality and participation in bible study.
A District Conference was held at Riverside and fourteen rooms were refurbished to accommodate the conference. A Prayer Room was also designated.
The conference directed Riverside’s mission field to focus on the university community. Rev. Rickey Georgetown was appointed pastor of Riverside in 2009.
Committee on Higher Education and Campus Ministry was established at Riverside. Under the leadership of Pastor Ricky Georgetown, Riverside successfully reactivated the Wesley Foundation at the University of Houston. A bus ministry was formed to transport students from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University to Sunday services.
During this time, Riverside again experienced a decrease in membership. In the midst of decrease membership and financial constraints, Riverside was asked by the conference to merge and become a satellite campus of St. Johns United Methodist Church. The membership voted to reject the merger with St. Johns.
Rev. Roy Weeks became part-time senior pastor of Riverside in 2012. Riverside and the conference entered into a partnership that included our congregation obtaining a full time senior pastor, renovation of the Jimmy Knight Fellowship Hall and the north wing of the campus and the return of the University of Houston Wesley Foundation to Riverside.
Rev. Lee Elder was named full-time senior pastor of Riverside in 2016. Rev. Denise Caulfield was retained as the Associate Pastor. She has served faithfully as Associate Pastor at Riverside since 2005. Pastor Caulfield has been instrumental in coordinating the Children and Youth Ministries, Vacation Bible School and various Bible Study Classes.