By Frances Benell
When I was about six or seven, I was delegated to walk with my grandma, Christianna Kaster, to church on Sunday because grandma was a little lightheaded. I never thought until I was an adult that Grandma was larger than I, and what if she did fall on me, then what? That was my first experience with the Moravia Grace Methodist Church. It reached up to the stars and was tall enough to see God. I wondered about this until I met the current minister, Cindy Fenn. She was all excited about a dinner at noon on Sunday, March 11 where each one of the attendees would help in a historical timeline and show when that happened. Cindy is very capable of transferring her joy and delight to others on such a wonderful day. I encourage everyone who wants to be part of such a great experience to be there at the Moravia Methodist Church on Sunday, March 11 at noon. I told her my story about what it Grandma would fall on me. She said, “But you would wriggle out and go save you both." It will be in my best story ever told for a long time and a good memory of Cindy even longer. You must call if you would like to be included for the lunch on March 11. The number is (641) 724-3707.
Very early in the history of Moravia, there were folks of the Methodist faith, so that two years after the town was laid out in 1853, a Methodist class was organized, composed of Mr. Shinn and wife, William Elswick and wife, and a few others. Fourteen years later, the first church house was built in 1867 at a cost of $500, during the ministry of the Rev. C.B. Clark in the beginning and the Rev. Mann in the finishing of the building. The early pastors were circuit riders and supplied Moravia from the Unionville Church which was reorganized as the head of the circuit.
In the winter of 1893, the Rev. Ireland held a revival meeting, assisted by his brother-in-law, the Rev. W.S. Gardener. The old church soon proved inadequate and the unexpected took place. The meetings were transferred to the town hall, where great crowds attended. Scores of people were converted and a great revival for the church occurred. Moravia now clamored for a pastor independently. In September of the following year, the Annual Conference held at Fairfield divided the Unionville circuit so that a new circuit was formed composed of Moravia, Wesley and Hilton. The Rev. Lathan Ingham, a transfer from Nebraska, was appointed as the first pastor of this charge.
In 1895 two lots, a residence and a barn, were purchased from Dr. Hague Hoffman for $1,000. This provided the pastor with a house. The same year the new church was started at a cost of $4,000. The cornerstone was laid June 11, 1896. Dedication took place Nov. 15 of the same year.
During the pastorate of O.J. Fix, the old church was showing signs of wear and needed repairing. A remodeling was started. After reconsideration it was decided the remodeling might cost $10,000. The trustee board authorized a new church to be built at a cost of approximately $25,000. The new church was dedicated April 21, 1928.
When the church was dedicated a loan of $11,000 was secured to cover a shortage of funds and pledge not paid in. Due to economic conditions, many pledges were not paid and only a small amount of principal was taken care of. The church also defaulted in interest payments and this brought the debt to $14,000. Through the efforts of the Rev. Chas. L. Ellis and a committee from the Ladies Aid, a campaign was conducted to raise $1,000 in cash. The finance company had agreed to reduce the amount of debt from approximately $14,000 to $4,500, the church people to pay $1,000 in cash and the balance in installment of $5,000 per year, the installments to include interest, which meant that the amount due had been spread over a period of about 10 years. A soliciting committee, consisting of 12 members of the Ladies Aid, conducted a campaign to raise the $1,000.
This was a success and the amount of $1,000 was paid to the finance company.
For a period of approximately 20 years, the women of the church served a dinner every Friday to the public for 25¢ per plate. There were six committees making each committee serve once every six weeks. During the threshing season in the summer months, the dinners were served to the threshing crews. Sometimes several farmers would brings their crews the same day. One summer they served threshers every week day for a month except for one day. The proceeds from these dinners were mostly used for payment of the church debt.
Four women I know, were referred to as the Cake Bakers, who were the ones to call for many years if you wanted a glorious cake. The cakes were baked at home and frosted and decorated at the church. Carolyn Van Dorin and Venetah Tubaugh baked cakes. Grace Whitehead and Hilda Walters decorated. Carolyn and Grace must have made 1,000 roses and other flowers. They took their husbands out to eat once a year and paid for supplies and everything else went to church projects. They did this for more than 20 years.
This present Moravia Methodist Church was dedicated April 1, 1928 and took the place of a building built in 1896 after all the long years of work done by both women and men.
In April of 1927 the old building was wrecked and work began on the new building. On Aug. 14, 1927, the cornerstone of Monella Wisconsin Granite, a gift by T.J. Turner and Son, was laid with appropriate services in charge of District Superintendent W.R. Keesey. He was assisted by the Rev. A.F. Ludwig of Blakesburg and the Rev. L.E. Cox of Iconium and the Rev. J.E. Ward of Unionville. A history of the church was presented by the pastor which with the following are the contents placed in the copper receptacle in the center of the bottom stone. A copy of the Moravia Union, a local newspaper, one copy of the Northwestern Christian Advocate, our official church paper, one copy of the latest Conference minutes or journal, one copy of the latest Discipline presented by the Epworth League, one copy of the Bible presented by the Young Women's Class of Mrs. J.W. Halden, one $5 gold piece presented by Miss Ann Brain's Class of Young boys, ages 10 to 13, $1 in silver and 1¢ in copper. The building is 55x72 feet in size, 18 feet high to the cornice, with asbestos shingled hip roof, two entrance towers, 42 feet high. It has an auditorium 30x50 feet with an ante room to the rear 20x30 feet and a balcony directly above the same dimensions. The choir loft is 18x20 feet directly behind the pulpit. In the platform beside the pulpit, conveniently arranged is a double compartment baptistry. There are eight Sunday School and the pastor's office. There are 21 rooms and a dining room 32x32 vestibules. In the basement is a 16x24 kitchen, two children's rooms and a dining room 32x32 with other classrooms included. The basement is tile floored and has an electric pump to pump water. The coal room is in the northwest corner and the furnace room next to it. All basement rooms can be opened by means of folding doors so as to make one large room for lectures and entertainments. Mr. F.W. Blumenstock, a member of the church, a local architect and contractor, was employed to get out plans and proceed with the construction. He had experience in planning and construction, having constructed several Moravian buildings in Europe and America and his faith was as a Moravian. He built a church in the image of the ones he saw in his own country, Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. He came looking for the Moravian faith in the United States and found it in Moravia in a Methodist congregation. The church basement was dug by horses using a slip scrape. The two workers handled scoop by digging front edges and pushed on handles so each scoop took dirt out just where it was needed.
The building is built of brick veneer of "Twintex" brick of Des Moines on the outside and common tile and brick on the inside. There is a main flue in the north wall and two invisible flues in the east towers. The art glass windows are exceptional day and night from the Decorative Art Glass of Davenport. The glass is laid in zinc, brightly polished. The plaster is rough sand finish, ready for decoration. It was put in by George Firkins, a local electrician. The trimming of ivory white paint and light oak varnish was put on by Will Laws and brothers. The plumbing was down by Allen Hiatt and George Johnson. Heat was furnished by a Mueller furnace with fan attachment. From October of 1926 to April 1, 1928 the Methodist people had been without a church. For a while they held day services in the Crystal Theatre and evening services in at the Christian Church. In the past winter, they had met for all services in the school house.
The teachers of all the adult classes, the eight-nine classes, all the adult classes, combined to a big Kingdom Builders class. I remember Grandma Kaster had me to escort her to some of these classes as they were held on Sunday evenings so I helped her in the dark as the streetlights program was not completed at that time. People of many occupations made for interesting subjects, some of these teachers were: merle Smith, John Veach, Fay Luse, Evelyn Daniels, Gale Tuttle, John Grenfel, Tom Robb, Jean Robb, Debbie Gaither, Sylvan VanDorin, Carolyn VanDorin, Grace Whitehead, Delmar and Donald Dowd and Joyce and Lois Hiatt. This group was expanded with co-op meals and pot luck. They are friends as well as good church members and truly enjoy each other's company.
I have enjoyed this time of revisiting my childhood.