“I grew up in the boonies,” I told Brian Sunday, as we meandered along our back-road route to Brownsville, Indiana, located not far from the farm where I grew up.
Of course my words didn't make for a news flash, and as we roll from U.S. 40 to Abington to Brownsville on this gorgeous November morning, we’re reminded that this area is still the boonies. Even so, imagine how much more so it would have been in 1806.
That was the year on our minds, the same year that the Methodist Church became a presence in tiny Brownsville. We were headed there to celebrate the occasion with not only members of the current Brownsville United Methodist Church, but with visitors, with the Greenwood Church Methodists, and with Liberty's Edwards United Methodist Church choir.
My lifelong friend, musician Karen Parks Bunch, was there to sing and play piano, accompanying church organist Charlotte Telker. Karen provided the special music along with her husband, the Liberty church’s choir director Kevin Bunch -- and with the choir. As I did, Karen grew up in that little Brownsville church.
While our hometown church has been served continuously by Methodist preachers starting with the early circuit riders in 1806, it’s interesting that the current pastor, Shelley Dodson, is the longest continually serving minister in this church’s 210-year history. She’s been there since 2004. One busy reverend, Shelley also serves the Greenwood UMC, and has a day job as interim bursar at Indiana University East in Richmond. Whew!
During the service, Shelley read some key points in the history of this body. The Indiana Territory was organized in 1800, and it didn’t take long for the Methodist Church to bring its Christian influence to this little neck of the woods in what would become Union County, and become the state of Indiana 200 years ago this year.
After a few years of circuit riders’ services in pioneers’ log cabins, the first Brownsville Methodist Church was built of brick in 1814, near the present building. The congregation grew and in 1828, land was deeded for a larger structure. Church history doesn’t record why the building wasn’t ready until 1844.
That building, however, stood for 101 years before it burned down in a Sunday-morning fire in 1945. However, before that bad turn, things got rocky in other ways. In 1860, the nation’s Civil War divided this body and a number of members left to form the Christian Union Church in 1865.
The Methodist Church went into decline to the point where windows were broken, the roof damaged, and doors stood open. In 1871, some members saved it with remodeling the dilapidated 1844 building, and it was re-dedicated in 1873. And so it went for 71 years until the 101-year-old building burned down nine days before Christmas 1945.
The congregation decided right away to rebuild and they got busy with planning and fundraising. To make do, they met for services in the Brownsville School. The new church – the brick limestone that’s there today – opened in 1948. There was a big celebration over it being paid off in 1952.
There was another big celebration on Sunday. It included a sermon about trusting God with the future of the church by the Rev. Mick Miller, assistant district superintendent. And being Methodists, cake and coffee followed. They even broke out the church's white china.
But first came the official bicentennial photo. For that, Brian and I stood behind the pulpit in the same spot where we lit a unity candle 38 years ago on our wedding day, a fine October afternoon not so different from Sunday’s fine November one.
As we stood there, I felt proud to be part of the Brownsville UMC extended family and so glad that we made the effort to attend.
This church. Home. Roots. This church provides a deep sense of belonging. One attendee, the former Janice Parks, whom I’ve seen once in the last 50 years before Sunday, but whom I would know anywhere all the same, even handed me an envelope of old family photos ... photos of my family!
They had been in her father, Gene Parks’ things and she thought I might like them. Where else could I be on the planet where something like that could possibly happen? Where her family would save photos of mine for somewhere around a century? And where a descendant would care enough to give them to me? To even consider that I might be there that morning? Unbelievable! That's home folks for you.
Yes, I’m from the boonies all right. These boonies.
If I could change that fact, change this place on the map that I call home, change this sweet church in the wildwood -- I wouldn’t.
Congratulations to Rev. Shelley Dodson who is the longest-serving pastor of this church in its 210-year history. (Photo provided by Brownsville United Methodist Church) Meanwhile, below is Geneva Floyd, who at 96 works behind the scenes constantly because she loves Jesus and people, and they sure do love her. Right, a look at the sanctuary.