Lincolnville United Methodist Church bids final amen

After 124 years, May 22 marked the end of Lincolnville United Methodist Church with about 150 members, guests and friends attending the final worship service.

Richard Saylor, Hutchinson District superintendent, was charged with overseeing the deconsecration of the building as a place of worship and disbanding the congregation.

?These are changing times in America,? he said, ?with six churches closing this year in our district and others throughout the U.S. in every denomination.

?As with all things,? Saylor said, ?churches will close and churches will be built.

Why close?

As the new year began, pastor Faye Wagner said attendance at the church was down to about 10 people each Sunday.

The lack of members, needed repairs and financial burdens were the main reasons the board decided it was time to close.

Saylor also spoke about his role in the decision.

?(Hutchinson District) is not in the business of closing churches,? Saylor said. ?Congregations make that decision because they are running out of people and money.?

After completing all the appropriate paperwork, Saylor said the congregation has now come to this moment.

?It is the most painful part of being the district superintendent, deconsecrating this sanctuary,? he said.

Former pastor returns

Former pastor Kennedy Mukwindidza, now ministering in the northwest Kansas towns of Quinter and Grinnell, gave the final sermon.

?God doesn?t live in this house,? he said.?He lives in the hearts of people.?

Mukwindidza appealed to the congregation not to take the church closing as an excuse to forget worship.

?Let us instead celebrate,? he said. ?Christ has been working with us for the last 124 years and we need to keep going.?

Deconsecration

As part of the disbanding ceremony, Saylor gave church member Clay Simons the collection plates, chalice, Bible and other symbolic objects for removal.

?This building, having been consecrated and named the Lincolnville United Methodist Church,? he said, ?we now deconsecrate and release for any honorable use.?

Wagner said the pulpit is being sent to a church in Zimbabwe, Africa, which is also where Mukwindidza is from.

Saylor declared the church disbanded, but offered some final thoughts.

?We remain part of Christ?s ongoing church,? he said, ?and as we scatter into other congregations, we shall still be one with Christ, one with each and one in ministry to all the world,? he said.

Reflection

During its 124-year history, the church had different names and different pastors, according to information provided by the congregation.

When the church was first established in 1887, when the town was Lincolnville Station and the church was Evangelical Church.

Life-long church member Ella Gilbert Steeley, prior to her death Nov. 28, 1964, provided a sketch of her memories.

Born in 1881, Steeley was the daughter of Rueben and Delia Gilbert, one of the earliest Lincolnville pioneers.

?Before the church was built,? Steeley wrote, ?meetings were held in the old rock school house.?

The first church was completed in 1888 at a cost of $2,800, she wrote, and stood until 1919 when the present church was erected.

The land for the church, parsonage and cemetery was donated by pastor Daniel Sill, who came to Lincolnville in 1871.

Steeley wrote Sill was a Methodist pastor for 31 years, and Harold Smith, another life-long member, was his great-grandchild.

Early conflicts

In the late 1890s, a disagreement between bishops at the ?mother? church in Harrisburg, Pa., caused a falling out when the Lincolnville pastor was denied the church, Steeley wrote.

?We marched out,? she wrote. ?One of the ladies clapped and said, ?There goes the devil with a sack of black cats.??

After the walkout, the Christian church asked members of the Evangelical Church to worship with them.

?No one seems to know when we bought back our church for $600,? she wrote.

To raise money, members held cake walks, ice cream socials and more.

In the early 1900s, Steeley wrote, pastors Netherly, Boswell and Underhoffler were stationed at the church.

The Methodist Church was built following another conflict that involved one family who wasn?t able to get its choice of pastors.

In 1907, she recalled, was pastor Herb Sill, grandson of Daniel, was the preacher for Lincolnville, Youngtown, Tampa and Lost Springs.

Mennonite Years

James Cott, a church member since 1954, also recorded his memories, which included the Mennonite Years from 1958 to 1968.

He recalled attendance was low and the church could not afford a full-time pastor, which resulted in the conference approving Mennonite students from Tabor College to preach.

?(Students) were sincere men who felt the call of the Lord to labor in his vineyard,? Cott wrote. ?They were often missionaries who had returned to Tabor College to get some schooling before going out again.?

According to Cott, that 10 years was considered the best period in church history.

A miracle

Cott also wrote about how in the early 1960s, he believed the congregation wasn?t getting anything done.

?Our attendance was low and our spirits were low too,? he wrote.

The miracle, Cott recalled, started small when a group of children decided to donate a quarter during the Christmas season for a light on the pulpit.

From that small act, he wrote, the idea snowballed as families donated money for a new organ and made repairs.

In order to continue serving the congregation, Cott said he knew space in the church needed to double.

It?s unclear who came up with an idea of buying a school six or seven miles away.

After discussions, the school was purchased and a carpenter hired to put in a foundation.

With the changing of the church building in 1968, the Evangelical United Brethren Church merged with the Methodist Church, becoming the Lincolnville United Methodist Church.