Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Controversy and Renewed Growth

The renewed Amish Mennonite group initially met in members’ homes every 2 weeks, but in 1866 they began to meet in the Hochstedler School ¼ mile south of the current church building and started a Sunday school. The minister, Benjamin Schrock, was in favor of building a church house, and in 1876 the congregation acquired land to build on at the church’s current location, CR 600 N-700 E in northeastern Howard County near the Miami County line. The first structure the congregation built was a plain frame building measuring 22 x 40 feet.

Howard-Miami, like every congregation, wasn’t immune to controversy. One of the worst happened around 1885, when a disagreement arose over whether it was acceptable for men to use buttons on their vests instead of the customary hooks and eyes. Some men were already wearing them on their coats, but the more conservative members felt they should not be used on the vests.

It became such a divisive issue that the church held meetings to try to resolve the dispute, with ministers from Wayne County, Ohio, coming to help work out an agreement. Instead, the disagreement grew worse, and no communion services were held for over 2 years because of the rift. The church finally resolved the issue in the spring of 1887 by agreeing that the men should follow their own preference regarding hooks and eyes versus buttons.

During this time there were few young people in the congregation. That fall, John S. Coffman from Elkhart, who had been instrumental in resolving the dispute over buttons, returned to preach, and possibly due to his influence younger people began to attend the church in significant numbers. Coffman helped to persuade the church to begin holding services every Sunday.

With the Sunday school thriving, the congregation grew until they needed a larger building. So in 1888 the church sold the old structure to the Brethren Church, and it was moved 3 miles west to serve that congregation. The new building was only slightly larger, at 36 x 50 ft. It was dedicated by Coffman on August 3, 1888. In 1894, the widow Sarah Hensler sold ¼ acre from her farm to the church for $25, and the land was added to the west side of the church lot.

In my next post, I’ll bring the story of Howard-Miami Mennonite Church into the 20th century.

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