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Footsteps from the past guide path for 150-year-old church

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The timber in the church building along with the timber of its members have long served the oldest church in Plymouth County.

The Merrill Melbourne United Methodist Church celebrates its 150th anniversary Sunday, Sept. 19.

Tied into the church's story is the history of Plymouth County's pioneers.

(Photo contributed) Peggy Carroll and Joanne Richards touch up the Merrill Melbourne United Methodist Church's sign in preparation for the church's 150th anniversary. The church was the first church in Plymouth County, although the first building, built in 1866, was sold and moved to a farm. A new church building was dedicated in 1874. The church is hosting a special event Sunday for the 150th.
A few years after the first German settlers homesteaded land in the Plymouth County area in 1856, the town of Melbourne was plotted in 1859.

Melbourne, one-half mile east of the current church, was selected as the new county seat of Plymouth County where a courthouse was built in 1860 at a cost of $2,000.

County business was conducted there until the board of supervisors re-located the county seat to Le Mars in 1872.

Also by 1859, settlers met the Rev. Frederick Schreiber, a traveling preacher and missionary in their homes. In 1860, the Rev. H. Kleinsorge travelled by horse and spring wagon from Council Bluffs to stay several weeks at a time.

During this period, a number of the settlers became Christians, with Christian Schmidt selected to serve as class leader when the minister wasn't available.

Sept. 24, 1860, a church was organized with a number of pioneers: Christian Schmidt, Maria K. Schmidt, Katherine S. Stafford, Phillip P. Schmidt, Peter Schindel, Maria Schindel, Phillip Schneider, Margretha Schneider, Maria Rasch, Elizabeth Schneider, John Schneider, Katherine Schneider, Daniel Schneider, Henry Schneider, and Elizabeth Winter Held.

By 1870 additional members family's names were Bender, Blecker, Spies, Koenig, Held and Berner, with the Bogenrief family soon to follow.

Winter services were held in homes and in the summer they were held in the school house (also the first in the county) in the southeast quarter of Section 34 of Plymouth Township, Plymouth County.

The first church building was constructed in 1866. Lumber cost $600.

The building was soon too small to accommodate growing membership. It was sold to Ezra Wilcox for $80 and moved to his farm.

A new church building was erected where the former had stood at a cost of $2,100 and was dedicated Oct. 4, 1874.

A parsonage was added in 1870, replaced by a larger one in 1884, with the older one serving as a barn.

During these times men and older boys entered the church through an east door and sat in the pews on the east side of the church while women and small children entered and sat on the west side.

The services were in German, but were soon switched to English to be easier for children, who spoke only English in school.

According to Margaret Spies, 100, a minister's wife from Le Mars helped organize the Woman's Missionary Society in 1896.

"The women stated that it was time for them to be better informed and more involved in the work of Melbourne Church," Spies said. "Many of the customs that began with this early group continue today, such as a birthday box (originally a penny for each year of birth) and dues per month (10 cents)."

The women's group decided to make a quilt for a fundraiser. An allotment was paid for each name embroidered on the quilt. It was white muslin and red embroidery, with panels of birds, wildlife, and flowers.

Work began on the quilt in 1896 and was completed in 1898 and auctioned after a church dinner.

"The fee of name space would run 10 cents to 25 cents," Spies said. "The winning bid was $10.50, then put it up for auction a second time, earning another $10.50. Philip Schneider took it home."

The 112-year-old quilt will be on display during the church's birthday open house this weekend.

Spies was a Nebraska transplant who came as a schoolteacher.

"I felt right at home as I was welcomed by neighbors and church members alike," she said. "The little church reminded me of my church at home."

Throughout the 1900s the congregation kept up the small church, adding a basement in 1931, remodeling the parsonage, and adding a classroom addition with indoor plumbing.

The men of the church farmed 120 acres to pay for portions of upkeep and additions.

Some time in the first 50 years of its existence, lightning struck the steeple.

In the past few years a new steeple and cross were installed.

Jim Bogenrief, who has been a member there the longest, remembers during his childhood, "the men of the church would meet to cut wood for the furnace for the winter."

The church later switched to coal, oil and now propane.

For some members, like Peggy Carroll, the church has been a part of much of their lives.

Carroll was married at Melbourne and saw all three of her great-grandchildren baptized there.

Merrill Melbourne United Methodist Church has a Christmas Eve tradition that stretches back farther than members can remember.

The service's offering is placed in two socks knotted together, and a member brings it front to present it to the minister.

"These are among my favorite memories because I guess I'm still a kid as heart," Dick Spies said.

The Melbourne church has been home to Sunday School classes, Bible School, Ice cream socials, baptisms, choir practices, pot luck dinners complete with 'egg' coffee, Sunday services and funerals.

The membership now numbers 38 and a number of members can trace their heritage to the pioneers who banded together for their Christian journey 150 years ago.

Merrill Melbourne United Methodist Church members are planning a special day of celebration for the 150th Sunday.

A 10 a.m. Sunday service will be followed by a catered meal at 11:30 a.m. An afternoon program will begin at 1:30 p.m. with guest speaker and former Melbourne minister Rev. Dale Stone followed by musical presentations with an ice cream social in the late afternoon.

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Congratulations to All! What a wonderful history of a community working together. May God continue to bless your Congregation with peace, health, and joy for your members. With a prayer for God's blessings. . .Sister Joan Stoffel, a Dubuque Franciscan Sister and native of Plymouth County.

-- Posted by joanstoffel on Thu, Sep 16, 2010, at 4:42 PM

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