Editor’s note: Join Churubusco United Methodist Church Sunday, April 22, as it celebrates the 50th anniversary of the merger of Methodists and Evangelical United Brethren denominations.
Smith Township’s first church was erected approximately in 1848 at Concord Corners. Some from the Methodist faith living in the community and those from distant areas gathered to worship there. Because of the distance and mode of travel, it became increasingly difficult to maintain regular attendance.
A new congregation was forming and met in the first one-room school building, located on South Main Street in the town of Franklin-Union. This could have been a private home because the first school building was not built until 1875, a two-story building at a cost of $4,000. Franklin Union was located on Goshen Road, about 15 miles north of Fort Wayne. Later, the town was renamed as Churubusco (November, 1847) after the victorious battle fought in Churubusco, Mexico.
At the close of the Civil War in 1865, returning veterans and the establishment of new, young families led to the decision to construct a new church building on North Main Street. The work for the new church began when three young farmers, two of whom had recently returned from serving under General Ulysses S. Grant, met one spring morning to begin cutting timber for the new building — Jesse Keene, Abe Krider and Thomas McGuire, one African-American and two Euro-Americans. Gathering in McGuire’s woods, they drew straws to determine who would strike the first blow to a poplar tree. McGuire, who is Ruth Beavers Nestle’s grandfather, was the winner. A small group who called themselves United Brethren, soon joined these men, including Nathan Beavers, Nestle’s paternal grandfather. As the three farmers continued to cut timber for the church, the community responded with labor and donations. In 1871, construction of the new building began. After three years of untiring effort with construction, the United Brethren building, located at the corner of Main and Tully streets, was dedicated in 1874. The building is now occupied by Christ Community Church, and before that, Bible Believers Church.
This congregation invited the Methodist Episcopal and the Baptist congregations to hold their worship services in their new building until each could build their own place of worship. The church bell was bought on Aug. 8, 1874, at a cost of $251.74.
The Methodists in the area were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Coesse. Again, because of the distance, it was difficult for some members to attend regularly. The idea that Churubusco should have its own Methodist church began to develop. In 1872, the Methodists of the community began meeting at the one-room school house on South Main Street. Worship services were held at the school house. When the school was not available, they would schedule services in the United Brethren church. From 1876-78, the Methodists erected a brick church on Whitley Street. The congregation continued to be sent a new minister each year or two. Those assigned to work with the Methodist congregations were circuit riders and later ordained ministers.
Around 1915-16, the Methodist minister and the trustees planned for a new church. The old church on Whitley Street was sold to the school board for $1,200. During the construction of the new building, where St. John Bosco Catholic Church is currently located, services were held in the school house until the dedication of the “beautiful temple” in October 1917, later to be named Faith Methodist Church. The parsonage on Whitley Street was sold in 1920 and a lot was brought near the new church to build a parsonage.
The United Brethren and Episcopal churches survived through the depression and many other difficult times due to strong faith and parishioners.
In 1939, the Methodist Episcopal South and Methodist Protestant churches merged to form the Methodist denomination. Seven years later, in 1946, the Evangelical United Brethren Church denomination was formed when Evangelical and United Brethren churches merged.
By 1956, the two buildings of the Methodists and the Evangelical United Brethren congregations were becoming too small to house their growing needs. In 1957, Leonard Rapp and his mother, Sabina McGuire Rapp, donated property on the north edge of Churubusco to the Evangelical United Brethren congregation that would allow for continuing growth. Leonard’s father, John, was a brother of George Rapp, Rita Fry Ransom’s maternal grandfather. Sabina’s father was Thomas McGuire.
In November 1960, a dedication was held for the new EUB education unit, which consisted of 13,000 square feet of space, including 10 spacious classrooms, offices, a fully equipped kitchen, a large activities room for youth and a fellowship hall that would be used as a sanctuary until a permanent sanctuary could be completed. The cost of the new building was $150,000, half of which was raised before the project started.
The Methodist church was also making plans in 1960 to undergo expansion, remodeling or relocation, whichever seemed to best coincide with their financial situation.
In 1968, the answer for both churches’ expansion needs evolved when the governing groups of EUB and Methodists merged the two denominations. By early 1971 and after much study and careful planning, the EUB and Methodist churches in Churubusco made the decision to merge to form the Churubusco United Methodist Church. The new church would be located at the north church site, 750 N. Main St.
The 1968 merger left many small towns, like Churubusco, with more than one United Methodist Church. Mergers to form one larger congregation were not uncommon in the 1970s; however, the merger resulting in the establishment of the Churubusco United Methodist Church was one of the few successful ones.
Those involved in planning the merger attribute much of the success to the relationship between the pastors of the two churches. These churches had worked together through the years on a number of projects, including Vacation Bible School. Reverends Kistler and Pritchett continued to encourage the relationship. As the churches began exploring the possibility of a merger, a five-member committee from each church was appointed to meet and discuss the issues involved. Members from the Evangelical congregation were Leonard Hazen, David Barnhart, Sylvelda McCoy, Bernice Bonar and Douglas Lockwood. Members from the Methodist congregation were Vic Barcus, Harry Blessing, Beulah Allman, Pepper Kirtley and Norma Boggs.
These two committees met Oct. 20, 1970, to begin discussions on a new name for the merged congregation. On Jan. 3, 1971, a ceremony commenced with the north church members marching downtown and uniting with the Methodist members. A farewell service was held at the Methodist Church and the new congregation, along with the Nazarene and Catholic congregations, marched back to the north church for a uniting ceremony. Later, a lunch was served by the Catholic church.
Beginning in early 1974, estimates for building the new sanctuary were underway, as well as a building fund crusade. This new addition was completed and the cornerstone for the present sanctuary of the Churubusco United Methodist Church was laid in September 1974. One year later, the new addition was dedicated.
Mary Coulter, Ruth Nestle, United Methodist Sunday School Peacemakers Class and Chuck Mathieu provided information for this article.