Speaker highlights history of church as it turns 200


By Sue Hughes | For The Times-Post

PENDLETON — Speaking to a standing-room-only crowd at Pendleton Historical Museum, Nancy Wynant spoke Sunday about the history of Pendleton First United Methodist Church.
Her talk celebrated the 200th anniversary of the church and is the last of the museum’s recent speaker series, which included talks about the Williams family homestead, the Pendleton American Legion and Civil War Maj. Samuel Henry.
Wynant, 93, is a retired teacher and has been a member of the church, located at 225 W. State St., since she was 13.
She and her late husband, Robert, raised their three daughters attending the church. Two of her daughters, Diana and Rachel, were there Sunday to hear their mom talk.
Wynant, also the church historian, spoke about the changes at the church, which has been a part of the Pendleton community for 200 years.
“I’m not a theologian, I’m here to tell a story,” Wynant said. “Envision in your head what I’m going to tell you; this is a part of Pendleton history.”
Back when Indiana was a new state, the Lost Soul of Israel circuit riders traveled around preaching, she said.
In 1823, Elijah and Elizabeth
Hollingsworth started the first church in Pendleton. The Pendleton Society of the American Episcopal Church began with 11 members. Thomas Pendleton, for whom the town is named, was one of the 11.
They were known for purity and strict adherence to rules, Wynant said.
They met in the members’ homes when a circuit rider came around.
“This was an occasion of great interest,” she said.
In 1832, the first church building was constructed; it was a log cabin. At that time, the church began having Sunday School, Wynant said.
Later, the town donated land to build a church at 113 W. Water St., upon which a frame church was built in 1839, It could hold up to 600 people.
No music of any kind was allowed in the church until the 1870s. Dr. John Stephenson donated an organ to the church. Several members left, calling it “the Devil’s chorus.”
The church was so widely attended that a separate building was needed for the overflow crowd.
By 1905 it was apparent that a bigger church was needed, Wynant said. A building was constructed at State and West streets.
That building served the congregation for several decades, until “in 1966, the congregation voted to put up a new building,” Wynant said.
Services were held in the Pendleton High School auditorium until the new church was completed in 1968.
“Nineteen-sixty-eight was an important year for the church,” Wynant said. On the national level, “the Methodist church merged with Emmanual United Brethren (EUB) church.”
The Ingalls Methodist Church joined with the Pendleton church, with the Ingalls campus offering services at 301 N. Alfonte St., Ingalls.
The large bell that sits in front of the Pendleton church dates back to 1878; it was brought from that church on Water Street. There is talk of having it ring again, Wynant said.
In 2020, like most other churches, the church went virtual because of the pandemic. That time was used to refurbish the sanctuary, including the installation of new carpet and the purchase of new chairs.
Although the church is back to in-person services, the online service is still available.
“Attendance fell off during this time,” Wyant said. “It’s ironic that during the 1950s following two wars and the Great Depression, attendance was pretty high.”
The church has been involved in missionary trips; members have been to Uganda, Dominican Republic and Sierre Leone, among other places.
They church also helps out closer to home during disasters; it has made trips to Henryville, Indiana, following the tornado there. Members helped build Habitat for Humanity houses in Anderson and Pendleton.
The 2019 tornado in Pendleton toppled the church’s steeple.
When a new one was purchased, congregants were given the opportunity to sign their name on the inside of the steeple.
“It makes me feel good to know my name is in a steeple pointing to heaven,” Wynant said.
The United Methodist Men have raised money for supplies and are discussing upgrading the kitchen.
As for the once-forbidden music, the church now has a praise band directed by Lamont Kusky, a handbell choir and a music combo arranged by Ryan Coyle. Shirley Farr has played the organ in the church for 60 years.
“The music enthralls us,” Wynant said.
Former Indiana Sen. Tim Lanane was at Sunday’s meeting.
He said “Madison County is having its 200-year celebration this year — your church is as old as the county.
“It may be one of the oldest churches in Madison County,” he said.
Wynant quickly pointed out that in fact, it is the oldest church in the county.

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