Solid Rock United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018
... building lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ

Jefferson Center UMC History

      There were two Methodist Episcopal churches in Jefferson Township, Huntington County, Indiana in the early 1920s, one at Pleasant Plain, two miles west of Jefferson Center, and one at Otterbein, two miles south of Jefferson Center. Both churches were struggling with declining enrollments and finances, due in part to shifting population as a result of the end of the oil boom in the area.

     Changes needed to be made if a Methodist presence was to remain in the community, and the most obvious solution was a merging of the two existing congregations. The idea was not without controversy. Some were very much against the merger. A meeting was set to discuss a plan for merging, but as a result of dense fog only two families, one from each church, and the Pleasant Plain pastor, Rev. J. Floyd Seelig, showed up. As time went by, however, a union of the congregations seemed to be the only feasible solution, so in the early months of 1926 plans began to take shape.

     The April 2, 1926 edition of the Warren Tribune noted the usual preaching service at Otterbein at 11:00, but also announced: “The merger of Otterbein and Pleasant Plain was declared Sunday by the District Superintendent, and will be effective upon adjournment of Annual Conference. The pastor leaves Tuesday for Conference at New Castle.”

 

     A new centralized school for the township had opened in the fall of 1924 in the southeast corner of section 16. All the grade schools in the township were closed with the opening of the new school, including Center School, located diagonally from the new school in the northwest corner of section 22. In April, 1926, the Center School property was offered for sale by the township trustee. As the new school had become a center of life for families of the community, this Center School property seemed an obvious location for the new church building.

 

      In May, 1926, the first trustees of the new organization, Elmer Endsley, C. L. Maddock, and Chester Holmes, purchased the property from township trustee Joseph Wiley for $175. The building was then sold to Chester Holmes, who used the brick to build a garage.

     Initial plans were to move the Otterbein church and demolish the Pleasant Plain church, but plans for a new building using lumber salvaged from the old buildings prevailed. Benjamin Beaver of Majenica was awarded the contract to erect the building. The men brought their teams of horses, plows, and scoops and dug the basement and laid the tile drain. Concrete was poured in early June. Both of the old churches were taken down and lumber used in the new building. Boys were paid 10 cents an hour to pull nails from the boards. With much volunteer labor, the new building was completed by the end of the year.

     Funding came from several sources. The Otterbein Chapel ground was sold for $25 and the light plant for $18. The Quarterly Conference designated proceeds from closed Methodist Episcopal churches at Lancaster and Plum Tree for this building project. On the day of dedication, January 9, 1927, $4500 of the total cost of $5900 was pledged. Much of the credit for the success of the project went to District Superintendent Dr. U.S.A. Bridge and the first pastor, Rev. John W. Borders.

     During the construction of the new building, the merged congregation, now part of the Mt. Etna charge with the Mt. Etna and Majenica churches, met at the Jefferson Township school. The Warren Tribune on April 23 announced that Sunday school would be held in the high school auditorium each Sunday with Rev. J. W. Borders. The next preaching service would be Sunday evening, May 2. The attendance the previous Sunday had been 81 with a collection of $3.96.

     What is today considered a modest structure was, at the time of its building, a state-of-the-art rural church. The August 13, 1926 edition the Warren Tribune stated that “there is a large basement and the auditorium will be ample to take care of important meetings. Especially fine is the surrounding grounds which will have plenty of shade. When the building is finished and the old school house torn away the Jefferson Center congregation is going to have one of the most attractive homes to be found in Huntington County.” The January 7, 1927 Tribune stated that “the material is a frame structure with a main auditorium, two Sunday school rooms and an Epworth League room with a basement under the entire structure. The equipment includes a furnace, electric lights, art glass windows, and is one of the best types of rural church structures.” The Van Buren newspaper noted that “the new church is to be modern in every respect, being electric lighted and have class rooms, kitchen, dining room, etc.”

 

Dedication Day

     Dedication Day, January 9, 1927, must have been a festive day of celebration. Rev. U.S.A. Bridge, District Superintendent of the Wabash District, had charge of both morning and afternoon services. He was assisted by Rev. Jeppe Jenson, former pastor of the Otterbein Church, Rev. Floyd Seelig, former pastor at Pleasant Plain, the new pastor, Rev. J. W. Borders, and Rev. J. L. Gillard, pastor of the Van Buren Methodist Church.

     The sermon for the evening service was given by Dr. Paul, President of Taylor University, who used as his text a clause from Psalm 23: “He restoreth my soul.” The Warren Tribune observed that “the sermon was evangelistic in character, and was a fitting one for the beginning of a revival meeting, which since Sunday night has been in progress under direction of the pastor.” Special music was provided by the Atkinson sisters, who were students at Taylor. During the three-week revival which followed, 19 people were converted, and 12 rededicated their lives to the Lord.

     The merger of the congregations was a new solution to an increasing problem of declining church enrollment in many communities. The Warren Tribune article stated: “This experiment in church consolidation is being watched very closely by the mission board and other officials of the conference to see if it does not offer a solution of the grave problem which is confronting rural churches all over the conference. Should it prove successful it will be tried out in other communities wherever conditions are at all favorable.”

 

Church Life

     From the very start, members were active in the life of the church. An article appearing in the Easter 1938 Jefferson Center News provided a detailed description of the church and its activities. Jefferson Center was on a three-church circuit with Mt. Etna and Majenica. Preaching was held every third Sunday evening and every third Sunday morning. Sunday school was held every Sunday. A three-week revival had been held the previous September, and revivals were an annual event.

      Children’s programs were sponsored throughout the year, and an offering was received to help “worthy young people” attend college. The young people were encouraged to attend Young People’s Christian Institute at Epworth Forest.

      The Ladies Aid numbered forty members, meeting each month for a social time and to quilt. They served banquets and managed sale lunches, with money earned being used to finance the church.

     The Sunday school boasted seven classes, including the Beginner’s Class (children from birth to age 8), the Busy Bee Class (ages 8 to 12), the Phydelis Class (junior), the Live Wire Class (young people), the Volunteer Class (young married people), the Men’s Class, and the Ladies’ Class.

 

Ground Improvements

     A major effort to improve the church grounds took place in 1946, under the leadership of Rev. L. Keith Hanley. He and the trustees had made a measured drawing of the property and then met with Mr. R. B. Hull, a Purdue University landscape specialist. In November of that year 37 members assembled with tractors, wagons, scoops, and shovels and began work on moving drives, establishing parking areas, and planting over 100 trees and shrubs. During the noon hour of this first day, the women provided a noon luncheon in the basement. Their efforts were recognized in a book by Ralph A. Felton entitled Men Working: A Study of Voluntary Labor Gifts.

 

Huntington County South Parish

     From the beginning, Jefferson Center had been on a circuit with the Mt. Etna and Majenica churches. In 1973, under the leadership of Rev. Bob Heckman, the Huntington County South Parish was organized, with Pilchers Chapel joining the other three churches. A second pastor, Rev. David Black, was added, and for the first time each church had a sermon every week. (Previously, there was preaching two weeks out of three.)

     Pilchers Chapel withdrew from the Parish four years later, and for two years the three churches were served by a senior pastor and a student or part-time pastor. In 1979, a new Huntington County South Parish was organized with the addition of the Warren church.

     While the parish arrangement allowed the churches to cooperatively do programming which they would not have had resources to do individually, it was not an entirely satisfactory arrangement. The four churches shared two pastors, and there was often the feeling that the pastors’ time was spread too thinly and that the needs of each individual church were not always being met. In 1991, the Warren church withdrew from the Parish in order to employ its own full-time minister. At the same time the Majenica church closed its doors. Jefferson Center and Mt. Etna now shared one full-time pastor.

     In 1994, the Mt. Etna church employed a full-time pastor, withdrawing from its partnership with Jefferson Center. Jefferson Center was then pastored by part-time student pastors.

     In 1999, with student pastor Kathie Jones completing her seminary degree, the church proposed to the Conference a plan for employing a three-quarter time pastor in 1999-2000 to be increased to a full-time pastor in 2000-2001. This plan was approved, along with the appointment of Rev. Jones to the church for this period of time. For the first time in its history, Jefferson Center United Methodist Church employed its own full-time pastor.