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 North Manchester, Indiana

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Source: NMHS Newsletter Feb 1995

Churches of North Manchester

by Rosemary Manifold

Rosemary wrote to sixteen North Manchester churches asking them for a succinct history of their church. Thirteen replied. With that new information, the many interesting facts about the town which she learned while working at the museum, and the background gleaned from her husband's earlier research paper she prepared the following presentation which she made to the Society in March, 1995.

There was desperate need for churches in the early days of our country. Many people came to the frontier to get away from law and order, for adventure, or in poverty to make a living. Whiskey was a necessity. One couldn't get help unless one furnished whiskey. It was even often on subscription lists for minister's salaries. Horse racing, fighting and gambling were the principal recreation. Rape, divorce, bigamy, and adultery were common. Churches and schools were needed. Church members were disciplined for participating in some of these "extra" activities. Church membership was small, but it set the moral pattern and standard, and this was important in maintaining decency and order.

The first sermon preached in North Manchester was probably by Bryant Fanning, a minister of the Christian Church, called the "New Lights", in Peter Ogan's barn. This group was quite active in this area, but no congregation was organized until some 50 years later. The German Baptist Brethren were also in this area early with mostly rural churches. Of course, everything was pretty rural then, but the organization of this denomination in North Manchester came later. Most of this group was of German heritage.

Methodists are the spiritual children of John and Charles Wesley, ordained clergy of the Church of England (known as the Episcopal Church here in the U.S). After a particular religious experience in England, John and Charles began sharing their experience with others, and organized interested persons into societies and classes. They continued in the Church of England though they were not very welcome there. Unordained preachers migrated to America and began Methodism here about 1760, but members were to go to the Anglican Church for the sacraments.

When the Anglican clergy left America during the American Revolution, that left no one to give the sacraments here. Wesley then directed that ministers should be ordained in 1784 and the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized.
Ministers of the Christian Church, Church of the Brethren (German Baptist Brethren) and Baptists were often engaged in other work in the community. They settled in an area and ministered to their neighbors. Not so the Methodists. They were circuit riders under bishops and presiding elders (we call them District Superintendents now). They were assigned to a territory and made a circuit, coming as often as possible to minister to people in every little settlement.
In 1840 the Rochester circuit was formed. It began somewhere west of Rochester and extended east to Columbia City or beyond. North Manchester and Liberty Mills became part of that circuit. Preaching may have taken place in a home or a schoolhouse. It often took four weeks to complete the circuit. Young ministers (often in their teens) were assigned with older ones, in their twenties or thirties, and this was their theological school. When circuits became too populated or crowded, new circuits had to be established. By 1845 Liberty Mills circuit had been established and North Manchester and Akron were part of it. There was no church building or parsonage on the circuit and the circuit rider, Rev. Warren Griffith, asked Liberty Mills to build a church and parsonage. He told them that if they wouldn't do it, he would go to North Manchester and Henry Strickler would build him one there. They evidently thought the school house was good enough. So he did go to North Manchester and Strickler built a church and parsonage that very year. He used the lumber he was going to use to build his own house.

The United Brethren Church which began among German speaking people after the Revolution met here first in 1844 in the barn of Richard Helvey, first settler in Chester Township. He was part owner of "The American House", a hotel that later burned. He built a barn at 205 E. Second Street, and they met there until 1854. They held revival services in the Lutheran Church. When they built their first church building it was a frame building at 306 E. Second Street and it was used for 31 years.

In 1885 the frame building was sold to the Progressives (First Brethren) and moved to 407 N. Sycamore. The parsonage they were using was sold for $20 and moved to South Sycamore and used to store onions. The building was heated so the onions wouldn't freeze, but it burned one day, and the whole town smelled the onions. When the frame building was gone a brick building was built with art glass windows.

The merger of the Evangelical and the United Brethren Churches took place in 1946 and the denomination became the Evangelical United Brethren or E.U.B. for short. In 1954 Rev. Walter House did much remodeling while he served this church and in 1964 at a rededication and anniversary of remodeling and the honoring of Rev. Benjamin Thomas at his retirement, the special speaker of the day was Rev. Merrell Geible (currently an active member of the Historical Society).
The E.U.B and the Methodist denominations who were very similar in emphasis united in 1968 and became the United Methodist. The local congregations chose the Second and Sycamore location for their merged churches. The old Methodist Church on Second and Front Streets sold in 1970 and the sanctuary was torn down. The rest of the building is now used as the Masonic Hall. At the new site, remodeling was done, parking space added and they now own one half of the block. Paul Steele is the present pastor.

Though the Church of the Brethren, or the German Baptist or Dunkard Church didn't construct the first church building, or record the first sermon preached here, they very much had a part in the early affairs of the community. Joseph Harter, one of the early settlers who came from Ohio in 1836 settled in North Manchester. He was influential in organizing the Eel River congregation in 1838. In 1852 it was divided into two congregations - Eel River and Manchester but the Manchester congregation was not in town. It was what later became the West Manchester Church and at that location. In addition to this division there were further divisions into several nearby congregations.
The first house of worship in town was built on Walnut Street and dedicated in March 1881. Brick was hauled from a kiln south of Servia. Total cost was$3300. for a 40 by 60 building. That building was replaced in 1907. The three-story Sunday School addition was built in 1925 and major remodeling was done in 1951. Present pastors are Susan and Bryan Boyer and Bruce Hostetler.

In the 1880's tensions developed in the denomination and in 1881 four or five thousand who wanted to go back to old ways withdrew and took the name Old German Baptist Brethren, generally referred to as the "Old Order." Within the next year, another group of five or six thousand withdrew to form the Brethren Church, sometimes called the "Progressives." They are also called, as here in North Manchester, the First Brethren Church.

The First Brethren here was organized in 1883 with 25 charter members. In 1885 they purchased for $200 the frame building from the United Brethren on Second Street who were abandoning it to build a new brick church. The Brethren moved it to a lot at the corner of Sycamore and Fifth and used it until 1912 when they built a brick church and moved the frame building to the back of the lot. Records show that the architect received 60 cents per hour for his services and the lumber supply company was generous in allowing discounts. The regular wage for a carpenter ranged from $2.00 to $2.25 for a ten-hour day and brick masons received 60 cents an hour. Some of the labor was donated by church members. The total cost of the building was $14,500. Since they had only $6,000 in the fund, they asked for donations on dedication day. Eleven people pledged $500 and with the rest of the pledges, they raised the entire deficit in a few minutes. Distinguished pastors of the church were J.R. Schutz, who served a total of 20 years, with five appointments, and W. A. Immel, who served for 22 years. Their present pastor is Marlin McCann who has served since 1987.
The Old German Baptist Brethren church on Route 13 west of town represents the other group from the Great Divide of the 1880's.

The Lutheran Church was organized in 1846 with 17 charter members. They bought a lot on the south side of Main Street, west of Market, for $40 and began building a church. They met in homes until the church was finished in 1847 at a cost of $1000. Records show that the largest amount contributed to that first building was $40 and other contributions ranged from 50 cents up. Two Lutheran groups were involved: The Evangelical Lutherans, who built the church and the German Reformed Lutherans. The latter group purchased half interest in the building for $148 and acquired the privilege of using the building half time. Later the two congregations united into the Zion Lutheran Church. In 1882 they had 120 members and began building the present building. The old building was moved across the street and later moved to the west end of town. At various times it was used as a laundry, second-hand store, paint shop, a church, and for Strauss storage. The new church building was dedicated in 1883 and was at that time the second largest and finest church in the Indiana synod. While this building was being constructed, the congregation met in the Opera House which was located where the parking lot is now next to the American Legion. One of the early pastors (1903-1905) was Lloyd C. Douglas, who later attained great fame as an author. He began his ministry while in theological school and was ordained before he left here. There was a series of short (for a Lutheran Church) pastorates until Rev. Homer Ogle came in 1924 and served for almost 40 years. Records show that the pastor was paid $113 in 1854 - then $300 a year until 1875 when it was raised to $400. The present pastor is Jeffrey Hawkins.

While I mentioned that the first sermon that was preached in North Manchester was by a Christian Church preacher, a congregation was not established until 1884. (Earlier congregations of this denomination were established at Eel River, 1842; Pleasant Grove, 1845; and Servia, 1849.) The organization meeting for the North Manchester congregation was held in the Lutheran Church. There were 32 charter members.

In 1931 the Christian Church as a denomination united with the Congregational Church to become the Congregational Christian Church. In 1957 this Congregational Christian Church joined with another united group, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, to form the United Church of Christ. After a time the local church became concerned over certain policies of the new church, and voted to withdraw, so they now are again a Congregational Christian Church. Fred Conkling, who taught at Manchester College and Jim Overholt, a local young man, served this church. John Curtis has served this church since 1977.

The Church of the Nazarene began as an international denomination in 1895 in Massachusetts, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, California. These three branches joined in 1908 as the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene. The word Pentecostal was dropped in 1919. The local church organized in 1935 and 36 and began as tent meetings. They then used the building that had been used by the Lutheran Church before they built their brick building. The Nazarene General Superintendent at the time described the old building as being, "the only church I have been in where one could stand on the platform and shake hands with the people as they went out the back door." When they were ready to build their own church, they had only $5 in their building fund, but faithful givers and contributions from other sources made up the difference. The town gave them $3500 and an Old Order couple gave $30 - the total of their monthly old age pension. They said they would eat out of the things in their cellar.
The church's main emphasis is full salvation preaching Scriptural Holiness as a second definite work of grace without speaking in tongues. The present pastor, since 1993, is Walter Irons, III.

The Manchester Bible Church, an independent Bible church on CR 300 E was brought together in 1948 by John Kissinger because there was no fundamentalist church in this area and was incorporated in 1952. They began with twenty charter members, nine of whom were from one extended family. They began meeting in the chapel of the Pleasant Grove cemetery. By 1961 they had grown from 34 to 147. They moved into their present building in 1954; built a parsonage in 1963. The congregation degenerated and the church morale began to sag during two pastorates and the members who were left wanted to go back to an earlier pastor. All of the charter members had left during this period. A pastor with a healing ministry then came and worked to rebuild. The name was changed perhaps to diminish competition with the newly organized Baptist Church, or to help overcome a negative image. Contacts have been mostly with new people. They have a school called the Manchester Christian School. The present pastor is David R. Erdman.

The Landmark Apostolic Church, which meets in the Town Life Center felt that there was a deep need for some one to be preaching the Apostles Doctrine 1)the oneness of the Godhead, 2) separation from the world, and 3) resurrection of the dead. The Apostles were to preach repentance, have immersion baptism in water in JESUS name and be filled with the Holy Ghost as evidenced by speaking in tongues. God is the only head -- it doesn't take three gods to defeat one devil. JESUS is the God of the Old Testament. The church was begun in the late nineteen forties or early fifties with a 3-month revival. There are no records from its beginning until 1993 when W.S. Gaines, the present pastor, came. Over 100 have come through their doors. Their record attendance is 38. Most of those who have come or who are associated with the church had been non-churched persons.
The Missionary Church was started in March, 1953. They tried unsuccessfully to buy the building of a closed church, then bought a lot that same year. A building was constructed fro $21,000 with much volunteer labor from members and ministers from nearby churches of the denomination, and meals were served by other volunteers on major work days. They had their first public service in May, 1954, with 44 in attendance.

In 1968 the denominations of United Missionary Churches and Missionary Church Association united forming the Missionary Church. A former resident had given J. H. Kimbel, United Missionary Director of Indiana church extension program, the names of two families in North Manchester who might be interested in a church like the United Missionary. Meanwhile the North Manchester residents had learned that there was a "good spiritual college" in Mishawaka (Bethel College, started in 1947) and wrote a letter to the President. This letter was handed over to Rev. Mr. Kimbel and the contact was made. After plans were discussed, they started a prayer meeting and Rev. Mr. Kimbel came the 170-mile round trip weekly to minister to the spiritual needs of the young flock. The church enlarged its facilities in 1977 and can now seat about 250. William Greenhood is the present pastor.
St. Robert's Catholic Church, named after Saint Robert Bellarmine, their patron saint, began as a storefront mission in the Western Auto Store on Main Street in February, 1958. Father Zahn, from St. Bernards in Wabash served as the first pastor. The storefront mission became a parish in 1963 and the present building was dedicated in April, 1965. The Rectory was blessed in May, 1971. The church has a Steiner-Reck pipe organ installed in 1985. From a small beginning about 35 years ago they have grown to a parish of about 130 families (400 parishioners). There have been nine pastors since the beginning and this church is now being served by Father Robert Mahoney who has been here since 1984.

Sweetwater Assembly of God started with a dream. Brother Amos Conley, living in Arizona, received a dream from God that he should return to North Manchester and start a church. In late August, 1974, the Evangel Assembly of God began services in a small country church on CR 400 E -- one room with twelve pews, two oil-burning stoves, a baby bed in a corner, and an outhouse. In the first year attendance grew to 25 persons. In another vision, Brother Conley was directed to "claim" some land east of North Manchester. He walked over the land several times to "claim" it. He tried to buy it from the owner, Lowell Emerick, but he refused to sell. But later, not understanding why, the land owner offered to sell Bro. Conley five acres. The church purchased it and built a pole barn structure in 1977. Before Bro. Conley left in 1981 he told of his vision of building a round church. When he left the next pastor seemed to be beset by Satan and attendance dropped to 13 people. There were healing ministers after that, however, and later a pastor was called who challenged the group that if these few people and this pole-barn building was the church of their vision not to vote him in because he was coming to build a church! They did vote him in with a 100% vote and he came and he did build a new church. The constitution and by-laws were rewritten, the name was changed to Sweetwater Assembly of God and plans were drawn to rebuild. Ground was broken in August, 1987. The present pastor, Thomas Turner, came in 1993.

Faith Baptist Church on Highway 13 Bypass began as a Bible class with five families. They met at Pizza King for Sunday morning worship from the time of their organization in June, 1975 until July, 1977. Land valued at $15,000 on Highway 13 was donated. The charter was closed with 20 members. Later they met at Mom's Restaurant until it closed, then Timbercrest Chapel, Petersime Chapel, Peabody Chapel and then a small building west of town. The building fund made an incredible growth from $6000 to $247,896 between 1978 to 1986. They had helping support from sister churches until 1980 and dedicated a modular building that year. They have built and remodeled since then and all the costs are fully paid. Their present pastor, Andrew Gathany, has been here since 1989.

The Christian Fellowship Church on 114 East was founded as a storefront church on Main Street on April 11,1977, by Rev. Robert Gidley. They moved to the basement of Mom's Restaurant (now the Sandwich Cellar) and the current location was purchased two years later. Expansion of the sanctuary was completed in 1993. The church exists to share help along the way and to share the joy of being born anew. The goal is to make disciples and their plan is to minister as the body of Christ.
It is a non-denominational church. The present pastors are J.P. Freeman and Dale Kelsey. Their average attendance is 72.
From these histories, it seems clear that churches are born out of a feeling of need on the part of a person, or a group of persons. If we were to look at the history of our town along side of this list of churches some of the needs would be apparent. Your needs are not always the same as those of your neighbors, but we all seek to grow, to find happiness or contentment and to be a part of something good beyond our selves. Churches try to fulfill that need. And though you may have been quite satisfied with a church organized in the early days of our town, others have needed to search further.

Sometimes people seek new places of worship because they want a small group to relate to rather than a large worship setting with many people and fine programming. With a town of 6000 plus more in the immediate surroundings there are enough for 400 or 500 people in each congregation, but that isn't why churches are formed, nor does everyone go to church.
History is not as complete as we'd like it to be. When you want to know something specific about a time or experience, you wish someone had kept better records. We're grateful for the historical details that have been kept and to all the pastors and churches that have helped me with information.

--Rosemary Manifold