3. The Centennial

The one hundredth anniversary of the founding of our church was celebrated on Saturday, January 10, 1903 (the exact date of the founding) with a Centennial Roll Call. According to the Session record, it “was a most helpful occasion long to be remembered. Invitations had been sent to all living members of the church whose addresses were known… At the dinner at noon it was decided to hold a more formal celebration on Sunday, June 28th and one or more days next preceding and following as shall seem best to the Session.”

Also at the dinner the president of the Ladies Aid Society was quoted as saying that the time when “women should keep silent in the churches” was past, and it was impossible for the up-to-date woman to keep silent.

In June there were Saturday services with many musical selections, a reception from 8 to 9 in the evening, and another service Saturday night at 9 p.m. At the Sunday service pastors from the local Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal congregations, a representative from Presbytery of Geneva, and numerous church members spoke with letters, reminiscence, and compliments for the congregation.

Centennial Sermon
By R.H. VanPelt, June 28, 1903

“…Love is the supreme thing. And the inevitable outgrowth of love is kindness, sacrifice and service. It is this alone that can shape such a character as heaven has any place for. I can think of nothing that can more certainly bar against anyone the gates of glory and remand him to the nether extreme, than cruel heartless, selfish, crushing abuse of the fellow man. ‘Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of the least of these ye did it not unto me. Depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.’

This is also the only principle that can solve the problems of social life. All exactions and wrongs, all cruelty and crime, are evidence of no love toward one’s brother man, whatever the religious pretentions may be. The root of a disjointed social condition and of the wrongs and slights men suffer at the hands of their fellows, is selfishness. Christ sets himself and his scheme at the opposite pole, over against selfishness he sets sacrifice. As a well known author has said, “He is on the side of the man that is down. He befriends the weak and the helpless. He leaves the ninety and nine and goes hunting after the one that is lost. Society kicks the man that is down. So does nature which suffers only the fittest to survive. But Christ says ‘we must try to help a man to survive, even if he is not the fittest.’” The old proverb has it ‘The devil take the hindmost.’ People have ever found it easier to be religious than to be Christian. Easier to make devout prayers, give pious testimonies and sing goodly hymns, than to enter with heart, intelligence and power, into the work of comforting, quickening and recovering the rear ranks of society which Christ championed.”

1853-1903 Historical Notes
Frank Schaefer writes: What I’d like to do here is to describe briefly something of the organization of the church a century and more ago and narrate some of the actions which the Session took during that time.

The Session numbered six elders throughout this period. There was no enforced rotation of elders, as came into being in the 1950’s, so the re-election of elders was a virtual certainty. When an elder entered into his reward or retired because of the infirmities of age (and very occasionally because of a disagreement) it was a virtual certainty that a deacon would be promoted to the Session. There were four deacons, elected for terms of four years. Deacons, like elders, were pretty certain of re-election.

As finances were the concern of the Trustees, Session concerned itself but little over money matters. In all the minutes I’ve read, I found only one reference to Trustees. This was when the five of them signed a call for a new minister. At one point they authorized the Deacons to pay two dollars per week room and board for a member who had become an invalid.

When the Rev. D.H. Hamilton tendered his resignation, Session did tempt him to stay by offering to increase his salary from $600 to $800, but he refused. The $800 figure became standard after that – to be paid in “regular half-yearly installments” except once when an effort to reduce salary to $700, with the additional $100 dependent on pew rentals, was defeated.

Session met frequently, sometimes as often as once a week. Some meetings would be after “Sabbath service.” Elders who missed meetings had to account for their absence at the next meeting and have their absence “sustained.” These Sessions were concerned with the alleged “unchristian conduct” of certain members who had “absented themselves” from worship and abridged the “ordinances” of the church. John Calvin at the height of his rule in Geneva, Switzerland, probably didn’t do a firmer job. Various members were charged with “putting other person’s manes to obligations and unlawfully using them,” with travel on the Sabbath, with incest, and with being the father of a child out of wedlock. The conduct of certain young men in the congregation brought forth the following from the Session:

“Resolved, that due regard for the purity of the church demands that this Session should treat the following practices as offenses calling for the administration of discipline: 1. Drinking beer or other intoxicating liquor of any kind in saloons, taverns, or groceries; 2. Card playing whether for a wager or for amusement,” and: …the practice of attending balls or engaging in promiscuous dancing at parties or elsewhere be considered an offense calling for discipline.”

As we today might suspect, indeed as history testifies, such action by the Session did not sit well with the congregation at large. The whole Session and the whole Board of Deacons were forced to resign. Elections found most of the men returned to office, but the point had been made, and the moral discipline of the congregation was thereafter somewhat relaxed.