January 1, 2016

Main St. United Methodist: History and Background

"One Hundred twenty-five years ago, one thousand twenty-five years ago, nineteen hundred twenty-five years ago, whenever and wherever the Church has been established, the only purpose has been to lift up Christ.  For this we were dedicated, for this we build; for this we sacrifice and work.  For His blessed sake, to bring Him glory and honor, to add to His dominion we give ourselves, that His Church may be increased."1

And so goes the opening page of the 125th Anniversary and Dedication Booklet for Methodism in Peru, Indiana, dated October 25, 1959, at the consecration of the education building of Main Street United Methodist Church.  A look back at the history of Main Street United Methodist Church of Peru (hereafter referred to as Main Street) draws heavily upon the background information from that dedication book.  The opening statement repeats the dedication that the church members throughout the years have had as a guiding force in all that has been done in the past.  And that love of Christ and his principles, and for the glory of God, continues in our work today, striving to continue to do His will, as he makes it known for our congregation and church.

Main Street:  The Early Years - 1831 to 1950

In 1831 Col. William M. Reyburn, a local preacher arrived in the little village of Miamisport and organized a small band of Methodist pioneers.  They met in the homes of the members for class meetings and prayer meetings.  The newly platted town of Peru took the place of Miamisport.  In 1834 this society was recognized by the Annual Conference and was designated as the Methodist Society of Peru.  Peru was a part of the Logansport circuit.  The circuits were quite large and covered much territory; consequently the circuit preachers did not reach their appointments oftentimes more than once every four to six weeks.  The services in Peru were held in a hotel at the northwest corner of Second and Miami streets. 

The frame church was erected in the fall of 1835 at the northeast corner of Third and Cass Streets, on a lot given them by proprietors of the city.  Later a brick church was built at the same site.  In 1854 the congregation was divided into two charges, but that did not last long, and was reunited in 1856. Some members began to want music in the services.  Others disagreed, thinking the innovation "unMethodistic.”  As a result, another split occurred in 1860.  Main Street Church was the building at Main and Wabash Streets which later was the Odd Fellows Lodge building, and was torn down in the 1970's.2 

In 1869 the trustees of the Main Street Church purchased the property at the corner of Hood and Main Streets for a parsonage at the price of $1,625, and the minister lived in a house on the lot.  In 1897 the old house was torn down and a new parsonage built, which was occupied by senior pastors until 1980. 

After the second division, Third Street Church purchased a building at Main and Miami which they remodeled in 1870 and used for worship.  Later that congregation used the name St. Paul's.2  By 1875 the two congregations had decided to reunite again with a total membership of 328.1  There was much discussion about a new church.  The Ladies Aid gave $650 in 1888 as a nucleus for the purchase of the lot on which the present church now stands. Eventually the women raised over $6500 that was given towards the new church.  It was dedicated in 1892. 2

In 1905, the church properties were valued at $40,000, and entirely free of debt.  When the church started, there were less than a score of worshipers, and now there were near eight hundred names enrolled upon the church records.  That marked the contrast between the present church with its grand organ and large chorus choir and the little frame building of seventy years ago.3

Main Street:  Growing Again - 1950 to 1993

A congregational meeting was held in June of 1955.  At this time the decision was made for a capital funds goal and drive of $125,000.  A fund-raising campaign was conducted resulting in the pledging of $135,000.  Of this amount over $70,000 was paid in little over a year and a half.  The ground breaking ceremonies for the new Education Addition were held August 20, 1956.  A fund-raising campaign was conducted for a second three-year period.  In addition to the new building, the remodeling and redecorating of the original sanctuary and kitchen was completed at a cost of a little over $200,000.  Of this amount $162,200 had been paid by October 3, 1959.1  This  major addition to the church, the Education Wing, was started in 1957 and consecrated in 1958 with Bishop Richard Raines in attendance.

 It is noteworthy to expound upon the time allotment for the fund drive and the financial numbers of this building endeavor and compare those figures to current monetary values.  The initial drive of $135,000 would be equivalent to raising $1,160,000 today. At the time of the fund drive they received $10,000 more in pledges than their set goal!  This would amount to $120,000 extra dollars to bolster the project.  In the 2nd phase of the remodeling, approximately 3 years later, the follow-up pledge drive netted $162,000, equivalent to $1,280,000 today.

 In speaking to a couple of members who were a part of the congregation in the 1950's during these building drives their recollection is one of parishioners giving not with expendable income, but in the midst of raising children, farming, working and living frugally within their monetary means.  However, these parishioners have no remembrance of church financial struggles.  They do remember an attitude in which everyone believed it was a worthy goal, worked together to achieve the goal & the congregation, as a whole, had a great sense of satisfaction upon its completion & dedication. 

In 1979, a Futuring Committee studied the plans for buildings of the church and recommended major changes, updating, and remodeling.  Through the efforts of the Trustees, many changes soon took effect.  In 1980 a new parsonage on R. R. 2 was purchased for the senior pastor.  This parsonage changed again, when the present parsonage on Third Street was purchased and the Rt. 2 property was sold in 1994.   In 1980-81 the exterior of the church was refurbished.  During the next year, 1982, through a very generous gift from the Ginney Estate and through gifts of time and money from members of the congregation, the entire sanctuary was extensively remodeled.  In 1983-84, the refurbishment continued to include the Epworth Hall and classroom areas.  The next phase of remodeling included the kitchen area and the Fellowship Hall.2 

One of the major projects personally undertaken by members of the church was to strip the railings to be reinstalled at the back and front of the sanctuary.  They had been removed in a previous remodel, and members were committed to bringing them back. Sunday School classes undertook those projects and spent much time and sweat equity in restoring this beautiful feature.  In addition, during the sanctuary remodel, the beautiful stained glass windows were refurbished, and insulation and drywall added to the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary. 

Recent History: The Last 20 years - 1993-2013

The past two decades have seen a pivotal change in Main Street due to a number of factors.  This also mirrors the change in Peru, as our community suffered losses of several employers.  Starting in the late 1980's, culminating with the 1992 realignment of Grissom Air Force Base from a viable active duty base to a limited reserve status base.  This resulted in the relocation of all active duty families from Miami County.  Main Street had always had strong numbers and church involvement from base families and their exodus affected our membership, attendance, and giving.  This, along with the general decline in employment in Miami County, resulted in frequent reassessment of the budget and several short-term fund drives to bolster funds for operating expenses and charitable work.  Staffing also needed to be adjusted to reflect decreased attendance and tithing/giving.

A second pivotal factor coinciding through this time frame has been a turnover in the pastorate.  There have been 5 different pastors at Main Street in the past 20 years, of which two were there for only two years each.  The frequent change in pastors, although expected in the Methodist Church, did take a toll on members, and caused drop off in membership.  

Thirdly, the rate of attrition of elder members has depleted attendance along with the common grievance of many small town churches in the 21st century of young people moving to larger cities where better job opportunities prevail.  Predictably the reduced attendance has been unsettling to long-time members, who remembered the packed pews and full Sunday morning worship services.  Records reveal that in February, 1959, after the educational wing was added, a listing of the use of the building included 300 people in Sunday School weekly, 275-300 in worship weekly, 35-50 youth in Sunday evening fellowships, 100 adults, children and youth in family nights at the church, and many other meetings and groups using the church.4    

Yet we continued to do God's work as we were led by our pastors and members.  Discussion was started in early 2000 and 2001 about major issues with the physical structure of the church, to the extent that a new building was considered.  After prayerfully considering the commitment and love that our members have for the Main Street building, the decision was made to keep our structure, but make it useable for the next century.   A building drive campaign was held and much needed major upkeep began.  One of the main goals was to install an elevator for Main Street, to make our worship accessible to all who wanted to attend, create more welcoming spaces in the main entrance as well as addressing heating and cooling issues.  

With much support, construction began on our last remodel in 2006, which included the elevator, remodeling the youth area upstairs, moving the chapel to the third floor, and offices to the original chapel area.  A welcome improvement was the remodel of all restrooms in the church with handicap accessibility, as well as the addition of cooling units throughout the church.  With help from our Endowment Fund, a strong Building Fund Drive, and a generous and giving congregation, we were able to do the million dollar remodel, and became debt free in 2012.

As always, Peru Main Street UMC has been a central hub for the conference as we continue to host many meetings throughout the year.  We have a thriving preschool, continue to be a meeting place for many community groups/events & support Boy Scout Troup 501.  Our congregation has always been service-oriented not only in church, but actively serving in a strong capacity within the community on a diverse number of committees, boards & philanthropic endeavors.  Bishop Mike Coyner started his leadership role as a young associate minister in 1974, and over the years Main Street has had several who have entered the ministry, as well as pastors continuing on to district superintendent roles in the Indiana Conference. 

The history of Main Street would not be complete without the mention of The United Methodist Women.  These ladies have been a driving force from the very beginning, starting as the Ladies Social Union.  They have always been in support of the church and have helped in many ways, including raising money for various needed projects around the church, as well as supporting the missions that go outside of our congregation.  Their help and determination in doing the hands on work of Main Street should not be underestimated.

"Main Street has traveled the road from a Methodist Society to the Methodist Episcopal Church, to the Methodist Church, to the United Methodist Church.  After the merger in 1968 with the United Brethren Church to become United Methodist, the church voted to stop being "First Methodist" and resume the historic name of Main Street.  The congregation has been a leader in all phases of the church.  There has always been an active women's organization, at one time it had the largest youth group in the state, and it sponsored the first Boy Scout troop in Indiana, now Troop 501.  In all ways it has prospered.2

 Thus writes the Bicentennial booklet, and its sentiment can still be applied today.  Main Street United Methodist Church, through many name changes, two church divisions & reunions in the 1800's, a multitude of building & renovation projects & a base closure, has been blessed by God with strong leaders, dedicated pastors, and a loving and devoted congregation.  The church has faced many challenges, but in God's Providence has persevered & prevailed through struggles.  Our focus is to look upward & reach outward to our community as the Dedication Booklet from above states, "for the love of Christ & His principles, & for the glory of God, striving to continue to do His will as He makes it known to our congregation & church." 

Bibliography:

1.  Program from the 125th Anniversary of Methodism in Peru, Indiana, dated October 25,1959

2.  Program and Church Directory for the Methodist Bicentennial 1784-1984, dated 1984

3.  History of Methodism of Peru, Indiana, by Giles Smith, 1906

4.  Your Church, Today and Tomorrow, Across Years and Centuries, 1834-1959, budget and pledge brochure under Pastor A. C. Underwood