History of the Church of God at Smithville, Ohio
"One Hundredth Anniversary, The First Church of God Sanctuary and the One Hundred and Thirty-Fourth Year of the Oldest Church in Smithville and the Oldest Church of God in Ohio, December 10, 1967" History of the Church of God at Smithville, Ohio
Church history has two sides, a divine and human. The divine is God's revelation of His wisdom, justice, mercy, love, and plan of well-being for mankind. The human side is largely the biography of the moral and spiritual development of those who have come under the saving power of the gospel.
The human side of the history of this church goes back to John Winebrenner, the founder of the Church of God. Winebrenner began the building of scriptural organizations by adopting the apostolic plan as taught in the New Testament, and establishing spiritual, free, and independent churches, consisting of believers or Christians only. Each local church would accept no human name, creed, or ordinances; but would adopt the divine name, creed, and ordinances. His work started in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1825 but it soon began to reach to neighboring towns.
The one town of special interest in connection with the history of the Smithville church is Churchtown. From this place, a number of people converted under Winebrenner emigrated to Smithville and formed this organization.
As the history of the early organization of the church at Smithville is more or less shrouded with darkness for want of definite knowledge, and as reports of the oldest citizens of the neighborhood do not exactly tally because they can only give from memory as it has been handed down to them; we will be enlightened upon this part from the History of the Churches of God. "As glorious reports reached the East of the fertility of the soil, the cheapness of farm land, and the prosperity of citizens generally, the families of the church became early infected with the western fever and emigrated in considerable numbers to the 'new land flowing with milk and honey' and even 'like the Garden of Eden'."
They settled in Wayne County, and by 1833 had associated themselves together in different localities for public religious services. Joseph Adams was their first minister. In 1883 J. Greeger was appointed second minister to work with Joseph Adams. In 1834 Thomas Hickernell and Jacob Keller were appointed to the "Ohio Circuit." When Keller and Hickernell went to Ohio, they "took up twelve appointments to commence with." By the end of two years "our appointments had swelled to forty." Wayne County was the principal part of their work, and was divided into two circuits, the Eastern and Western, and two ministers were appointed to each.
The families of a church are its surest seed. They commend or discredit the faith which they receive. The families that migrated from Churchtown to Smithville proved to be both sure and good seed and they began earnestly to contend for the faith of the Churches of God by forming an organization and adopting the following covenant: "We, the undersigned, do hereby mutually covenant and agree to form ourselves into a church of God on the New Testament plan. "We further agree to take the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as the only authoritative rule of our Christian faith and practice. "And moreover, we promise cheerfully and quietly to submit to the order of God's house, and to obey the office-bearers who are or at any time may be placed over us in the Lord."
Under the leadership of Thomas Hickernell and Jack Keller the church began to prosper and in the spring of 1838 a house of worship was built at which time Thomas Hickernell and William Adams were the ministers, This is the second church house in Smithville (the Presbyterians having the first house and first organization.) The Bethel was built of logs, and today is known as the Blough home, standing just a little way from the place where it was dedicated to God. John Winebrenner had charge of the dedication and the following were in the offices of elders and deacons: Peter Eberly, Jacob Beelman, Prof Benj. Musser, Mr. Heikes, and John Bricker. Hugh Norris was the first sexton and prior to the building of the Bethel, Mrs. Norris' 12 by 20 kitchen served as the place of worship for the church.
The first Sunday School in Smithville was started in this Bethel under the direction of Rev. Adams. The school started with the Lutherans co-operating but with services being held only during summer months. During the winter months the wife of Rev. Adams taught school in private homes before the public school was started.
Another of the special activities of this church was their annual camp meeting. The first camp began in 1840 and was located east of Smithville. In later years the camp was held west of Smithville in Blattenburg's woods.
The church enjoyed prosperity in every way and during their stay in the log Bethel they entertained the 12th, 19th, and 28th Ohio Elderships. As a self evident fact that this church was a strong, influential and progressive organization, the Eldership in the fall of 1862 "advised the church at Smithville to build a meeting house on a large plan, with an upper story for a school." This advise was taken into consideration and resulted in the building of the present brick bethel for church purposes and the Willaman Block with the second and third stories for a school.
The building of the present edifice was first started by John Zimmerman and wife, Mary, giving the ground and also a subscription. The work was further encouraged by John Willaman giving $1,000.00 and a bell that would weight as many pounds. The exact weight of the bell upon arrival was 999 pounds. The great feature of this project was the erection by Daniel Keifer of the tower which stood 117 feet high. Different mans worked on the building but the bricks were made in Smithville by Jacob Paul. The cost of the house was $5,000.00. The members contributed as the Lord has prospered them, and on December 16, 1867, the house was dedicated to God by A.A. Shumaker of Chicago, Ill. J. H. Basore was pastor during the building, and D. Blakely became pastor the fall the building was dedicated.
The officers of the church at this time were:
- Jacob Durstine and John Zimmerman as ruling elders.
- John Willamen, Benj. Palmer and John Myers, deacons.
- John Willaman, Jacob Durstine, Michael Stevens, trustees.
With the new quarters, the church continued her steady advancement. The Sunday School enrollment was beyond the three hundred mark, with the house filled at its sessions and likewise for the evening services. Another mark of advancement was the installation of a library of several hundred volumes.
During these years the Church of God was truly a community church, by serving and leading the community in true community services, and making services union in spirit with other denominations that worshipped with the church from time to time. This community spirit did not last, however, for the spirit of sectarianism was rife, and when the Eldership was asked to give a decision on certain matters of church government, the displeased members withdrew from the church and they in turn divided themselves into groups which resulted in the starting of several other churches in the already over-churched village. It is needless to say that this division destroyed the community's spirit, and the Church of God suffered an unusual period of decline and adversity that lasted for years.
The year 1921 marked the beginning of a new epoch. At this time a great spiritual awakening attended the revival conducted by the writer. Not only this church, but all others of the community were awakened, and every church received new members from the converts of this revival.
Following in the wake of the revival, the bethel underwent repairs and alterations to the extent of $3,500.00. This put the interior in modern condition for efficient church work, and on February 28, 1922, the building was rededicated. At the same time the church was again rechristened as "The Community Church." Community services are being held each Sunday morning, and on Sunday and Thursday evenings. Likewise a well conducted Sunday School, and Senior, Intermediate and Junior Endeavor Societies with meetings of unusual interest. Since this new order has again begun, fifty-one persons have united with the church.
On May 27, 1923, the Ninetieth Anniversary was conducted and these words were used to challenge the congregation of the day: "Today marks the anniversary of the oldest church in Smithville, and also the oldest church house. This church is also the oldest Church of God in Ohio. In keeping with the present progress, the bethel is now made new by having the immense tower taken down and the structure finished according to modern architecture, a beautiful coat of stucco applied to the bricks, and the splendid arrangement of fine shrubbery for the finishing touch. These outward adornments along with the improvements of a year ago now gives to Smithville a neat and attractive church building with equipment for a real community church. And the edifice itself stands as a monument to the sacrifice and labors of the members and friends of the church."
From 1923 until 1930, the Reverend C. O. Swander was the assigned minister, and under his ministry many joined the ranks of Christendom and also became active members of the local church.
The church continued its upward climb, both numerically and spiritually, under the leadership of Rev. A. L. Kriner. Mr. Kriner came to Smithville from Wharton, Ohio. a community in the western part of the state He had previously served in several churches in Pennsylvania. His transfer to this place was just before the great depression of the 1930's. This made the going very difficult but with more concerted effort and with the help of the Lord, progress was continually made.
During this time there were two study classes for the training of Sunday School teachers which were well attended. This as well as the revival services were two of the factors for its progress. During the year 1941 a new face was given to the main chapel by the installation of new and very comfortable decorating of the church. Rev. Mr. Kriner served the church from 1930 to September 1958.
Following Rev. Kriner, who served the church 28 years, was the Reverend O. J. Thompason. He was assigned to the work in September of 1958 and moved into the community in November of that year. He came to this work after serving the Lima Church of God for six years.
In 1963 the need was fully realized for an addition. The needs namely being more Sunday School classrooms, a Fellowship Hall, and rest rooms. After much planning, pledges were received from the membership and since the interest was so favorable a contract for approximately $15,000 was let to R. Howell for the building of an addition at the rear of the church and attached to the main structure by a hall. The audition of 40 feet was built and this houses three classrooms, a fellowship room, a kitchen, rest rooms, and heating plant. This addition was completed and dedicated in 1964, with the Reverend Richard Wilkin, President of the Ohio Conference of the Churches of God, delivering the dedicatory message and with several ministers of the area taking part in the service.
Other improvements included new hymnals and the redecoration of the main sanctuary.
Our vision and hope is now to strengthen the ties which bind us together in a common faith and purpose in service to our Heavenly Father. The maintenance and enlargement of the church depends upon our harmonious co-operation. This co-operation in its truest and most fruitful sense is the outgrowth of our oneness in Christ. With the Holy Spirit to inspire us, and the voice of God to bid us forward, increasing prosperity and usefulness will attend us if we will only go forth earnestly in the strength of God's eternal Son.
[Our present sanctuary photography]
[Sunday School Annex and Fellowship Hall Photograph]
Pastors since 1834
- Joseph Adams
- George Kimmel
- Joseph Grimm
- J. Greegor
- Elder Woods
- J. F. Slough
- Thos. Hickernell
- Solomon Kline
- Elder Rollison
- Eld. Jacob Myers
- J. M. Cassel
- J.W. Johnson
- G. U. Harn
- E. Poling
- Ralph Correll
- Williams Adams
- G. L. Cowen
- Silas Hunter
- J.H. Bascore
- W.P. Burchard
- S.D. Harlan
- J.S. McKee
- S. Dickerhoof
- G. Gochenour
- D. Blackely
- G.H. Richie
- Grace Nettro
- J.M. Capel
- W.P. Small
- C.F. Raach
- J. mackey
- W.E> Fuller
- A.O. Musgrave
- Moses Coates
- W. H. Oliver
- D.E. Levers
- O.H. Betts
- W.H. Olive
- F.H. Snavely
- J.H. Plowman
- Thomas James
- C.O. Swaqnder
- Thomas Dishiri
- J.C. Hoover
- A.L. Kriner
- Lewis Selby.
The founder of the Churches of God in North America, John Winebrenner, received several members into this church during his visits to this area during his active ministry.