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Grace UMC serves spiritual needs of community for 175 years

| April 9, 2015

COSHOCTON – Grace United Methodist Church holds a lot of special memories for Dan Moody. His children and grandchildren were baptized there, his son was married there and his father’s funeral was held there.

Moody is just one of 125 50-year members of the church who will be honored on Sunday, April 12, when Grace UMC celebrates its 175th anniversary.

“They’ve been the backbone of our church,” said Judy Elliott, who is helping organize the anniversary celebration. “They are the leaders who have been involved in a lot of different programs and financially supported the church.”

The official celebration starts at 11 a.m. and will include a visit from Bishop John Hopkins, the playing of a commemorative piece of music written by Tom Havelka, a meal in the fellowship hall and the unveiling of a time capsule that was buried in 1976. New items also will be placed in the capsule to be opened at the 200th anniversary in 2040.

The church’s history dates back to 1840 when Isaac N. Baird, with the help of Mrs. David Spangler, organized a congregation of 12 people that met in the jury box of the county courthouse. The present church was completed in 1881, and dedicated free of debt on April 24 of that year.

One change to the building that Moody remembers is the addition of the educational wing in the 1950s. He still has fond memories of classes that were held at the church.

“We had an adult Sunday school class that lasted for a number of years,” Moody said. “There were maybe 25 to 30 people in it. We’d go on picnics and take trips. It also was nice because most of us had kids who were all in the same age range.”

At one time there also were 50 to 60 kids in a high school Sunday school class.

Young families with children may not be the norm at the church anymore, but it still has several strong programs.

“We have a United Methodist Women’s organization that does mission work in the community and worldwide and a senior adult ministry program that meets monthly,” Elliott said. “We probably have 90 to 100 people (in the senior group) that gather for a meal and program.”

Moody said the church is blessed with musically talented members.

“We have a great church choir,” he said.

The church, however, has seen some negative changes due to the economy.

“At one time we had around 1,400 members and now there are probably about 800,” Elliott said. “We don’t have the industries we used to have and people with children aren’t staying here.”

Many groups still use the church though. Banquets are held there and a Boy Scout troop has met there for years. At one time the church’s gymnasium also was in demand.

“Years ago it was the biggest in town,” Moody said.

The people, though, are what have made the church last for more than 100 years.

“We have dedicated members,” Moody said.

Nita Near, who is a 50-year member of the church along with her husband Fred, agrees with Moody.

“Twenty years ago we retired and had to decide whether or not to stay in Coshocton,” Nita said. “We aren’t natives of here so we thought about going back to our hometown. This church is what kept us here. We just couldn’t leave this beautiful community of believers.”

Another key to the church’s long history is strong leadership from pastors over the years. In fact, part of the anniversary celebration includes inviting many of them back to speak at the church on select Sundays.

Nita said it’s wonderful to have them back to speak at 11 a.m. services on the following Sundays: May 10 – Rev. Dr. William McFadden; June 15 – Rev. Les Peine; Aug. 23 – Rev. Brian Smith; Sept. 6 – Rev. Cynthia Theobald; Oct. 18 – Rev. Ray Kovach; and Nov. 15 – Rev. Ruth Roth. January’s speaker was Rev. Jan Coffman, February’s was Rev. Don Christensen and March’s was Rev. Clark Kandel.

The members of the church are also excited about its future.

“I’d like to encourage future members to still be a strong church and continue to spread the Gospel to members and the community outside this building,” Elliott said.

The church did just that when it adopted a Boat Family from Laos.

One of the children (Soutchay Soungpradith) even painted a mural in 1995 in the preschool room to thank the church for helping his family.

“The father became our janitor and when he died the wife took over,” Elliott said. “She raised all the children and they are college graduates. She also keeps this place ship shape.”

Pastor Craig A. Redecker led the congregation for 14 years and Keith Peachey will help them move into the future when he takes over after Redecker retires in June.

“We need to change a bit because society has,” Nita said. “Hopefully the new pastor will lead us down the path to meet the needs of younger people and future generations.”

Elliott is thankful for everyone who has been a part of the church’s history.

“I’m gratefully for the hundreds of faithful that have brought us to this point,” she said.

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About the Author ()

I started my journalism career in 2002 with a daily newspaper chain. After various stops with them, I am happy to be back home! I graduated from Coshocton High School in 1998 and received a Bachelor of Arts in Communication in 2002 from Walsh University. I also earned several awards while working for daily papers, including being honored by Coshocton County’s veterans for the stories I wrote about them. I am honored and ready to once again shine a positive light on Coshocton County. I also am the proud mother of a little girl named Sophia!

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