Community Roots Run Deep at Rural Church Near I.C.
Posted By: Mistina Christner (email)
Date: 9/13/2018 at 14:38:44
Source: The Gazette 8-5-2016
Community Roots Run Deep At Rural Church Near I.C.
Congregation marks 150 years in Sharon Center
By Madison Arnold
SHARON CENTER - On a quiet hilltop 10 miles southwest of Iowa City sits a brick church and an old cemetery wrapped in a white iron fence.
For Marge Miller and many others in the small, unincorporated village of Sharon Center, this place is filled with more than a century of family and community history.
"I have great ties to this," says Miller, 95, sitting inside the United Methodist Church, which marks its 150th anniversary this weekend.
Miller has been a member of the church her entire life. She was "a babe in arms" when her parents first brought her to church, and she was baptized at home by the minister.
Miller's ties to the church, however, go back even further. Four of her great-grandparents were among 17 founding members and are buried in the cemetery across the road, next to where the original 1869 church building stood.
"(It's) very special because I know they were really the foundation of this," she said.
Community members began meeting in a schoolhouse when the church was formed in 1866. The first church - a 24-by-40-foot pine lumber building - was build three years later. Membership continued to increase, and the church outgrew the building and moved across the road in 1959, where it remains today.
Miller said other families have been in the area for a long time - including the family of member Nancy Ritter, which she can trace back about 150 years.
"A lot of the families have their roots really deep here," Miller said. "I think the people are sincere. They're generous, they're trustworthy. They're mostly happy, hard-working people."
The Rev. Erling Shultz, the minister, said the congregation consists of more than 400 people, with a regular attendance of 149.
It's a milestone to celebrate when a small, rural congregation lasts 150 years, Shultz said.
He credits the church's endurance, in part, to its ability to attract members from places like Iowa City and Coralville.
Even so, Ritter said that, like many other churches, Sunday school classes are becoming smaller. Fewer younger members are living in the area and joining the church, he said.
A 150th Anniversary celebration will be Saturday and Sunday at the church, 2804 520th St. SW. The public is invited.
Saturday's activities include a 6:30 p.m. cemetery walk, 9:15 fireworks show, an ice cream social and children's activities.
Sunday begins with a 10 a.m. worship service featuring the Sharon Praise Band, a select choir, keyboardist Barb Shultz and remarks from three former pastors. After the service, members plan to open a time capsule. A potluck pig roast takes place at noon. Tours of the new parsonage will be offered from 1 to 3 p.m., and another ice cream social completes the day.
Shultz said the event provides an opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the church's future.
"You don't make it 150 years without a vision to make it that far," he said.
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