United Methodist Church

Worship Service: Sunday at 10:00 AM

A Missional History of the Columbus United Methodist Church []
     We often trace the history of a church by its building(s), it is the most obvious thing about the church, the easiest to verify, and seems to have a degree of permanence. But it is truly the ministry of the church that lasts. Our church has outgrown three buildings in Columbus, including two German-speaking buildings, and one building in Elba. One can hardly call that permanent! But Methodist worship has been happening in Columbus since 1846. Our current building has only been used since 1872, but Sunday School has been happening since 1862! So let’s think about the history of the ministry and mission of the Columbus United Methodist Church.

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Worship []
     One notable moment in the worship of the church was the preaching of evangelist Margaret Newton Van Cott around 1872. She had a great influence on the building of the church, and placing of the sanctuary on the second floor. Mrs. Van Cott conducted evangelistic services in Columbus several times, and made many converts.
     Margaret Van Cott is a notable figure in the history of Methodism. She was the first Methodist Episcopal woman in the US to gain a local preacher’s license. Margaret Van Cott’s experience of conversion was described thus:
"On the way to work one morning she suddenly heard a voice calling on her to turn over her life to the Lord. That moment she stood on the pavement in front of Old John-Street Methodist Episcopal Church, and from heaven light streamed in upon her soul. She was soundly, powerfully converted."
     Later in a discussion with her husband, Peter, and the pastor of the Duane Street Methodist Episcopal Church whose first name was John, she first uttered the words which, until her last days, were her manifesto of independence,
"I believe my tongue is my own, John, and I will use it when I please, where I please, and as I please."
     In 1866 she visited Durham, New York and made her first public address in a school-house. She followed with others, and many conversions seemed to give her efforts the divine endorsement. In September 1868 she received an exhorter's license from the Reverend A. C. Morehouse, which empowered her to conduct prayer meetings and to exhort; and on March 6, 1869, the quarterly conference of Stone Ridge, Ellenville, New York, gave her a local preacher's license. In her first year of itinerancy five hundred souls were brought to Christ who became members of the various Churches in the area. On her 50th birthday, in 1880, it was said that she had traveled 143,417 miles and held 9,933 revival meetings. During this time she preached 4,294 sermons.
     Her remarkable career as an evangelist lasted from 1866 until 1912, by which time she was known throughout the United States. It is said that "She had the stature and bearing of a queen, and a voice of strength and sweetness, such personal gifts as impress and control an audience, and her word has always been attended with excellency of power."
     Worship was always the central activity of our churches. There have been many special times of worship. One of those was Easter, when the German Methodist youth from Columbus would walk to Astico for sunrise services. Youth have participated in worship in many ways over the years.
     It was during the tenure of Bob Sanks as pastor that our tradition of ecumenical began. An ecumenical group made of clergy and laity from the several churches planned several services per year. This included a Summer Service in the park around the 4th of July, joint Lenten services, and a World Wide Communion service. Not all the churches participated in World Wide Communion Service, and it was somewhat radical, as several of the denominations did not yet have agreements about communing together. This service was held jointly in one of the churches on Sunday morning, with the other churches canceling their worship. Services were rotated each year, and followed the liturgy of the host church.
     Lenten celebrations were begun which involved study among the churches as well as worship and meals. During Lent, the services are held on Wednesday nights at one of the churches, while the pastor from another church preaches. The churches involved include: Columbus Christian Fellowship, Faith Lutheran, First Presbyterian, St. Jerome’s Catholic, Church of the Nazarene, Wisconsin Academy Seventh Day Adventist, Olivet Congregational and our church. Members of many churches have told how proud they are of the cooperation between the churches.
     Our ecumenical services around the 4th of July have been held in the Fireman’s Park. Jonathan Overby would come out from Madison and lead the singing and worship. These have not been held for a few years now. In addition, there has been a service at the Roman Catholic Church on the Sunday afternoon of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. At that service, a judicatory leader of one of the participating churches is asked to speak. In 2006, it was our own bishop, Linda Lee.

Sunday School []
     In 1862, the Elba Methodist Episcopal Church started a Sunday School.
     The American Sunday School movement started in Philadelphia about 1800, and spread all over the young nation. Sunday School was not just for children, but there were many adult classes, also, through the years.
     At one time, Sunday School classes were held in the basement of the Farmer’s Merchant’s Union bank. The bank would leave the door unlocked, and the Sunday School used the basement space.
     One of the remarkable facts of our Sunday School is that Frances Walcott taught Sunday School for 50 years. We appreciate the devotion and love that was given to this ministry for half a century!
     We have now embarked on the adventure of Rotation Sunday School, which uses specialty rooms. Over a four-week period, the children study the same theme or Scripture story in four different ways in four different rooms, which may include puppets & drama, art, movies, storytelling, games or other activities.

United Methodist Women []
     From almost the beginning of our predecessor churches, the women have gathered to do work for the church and for the promotion of mission. The groups have had many names over the years before becoming our current United Methodist Women with its many circles.
     In the German churches, the women’s group was called “Frauen Verein” (translated “Ladies Aid”) and this group continued as a circle within the larger Women’s Society for Christian Service well after the merging of English and German churches in 1937-41.
     The emphasis on work for the church and the promotion of mission is very clearly illustrated in the annual report for 1937. That the three women’s groups of the two German and one English-speaking churches were dissolved and a new women’s group created, complete with new constitution.
     The women raised money for several projects: Sunday School, towels for the church, the Salvation Army, the Million Unit Fellowship Movement and the choir. The money was mostly raised by serving meals to other groups. A public supper cleared $61.31. Serving the Mid-Winter Institute raised $42.13. Meals for Band Tournament members netted $73.92 and $59.07. The District Rotarians were served for $.60 per plate. Money was also raised by selling “BEB products” such as waxed paper, baking cups, dust cloths & clothes pin bags.
     Two of the regular ministries of the Women’s Society for Christian Service were that of sending “sunshine” to people in the form of cards and letters, and visiting those who were sick or couldn’t get out.
     In 1949, the WSCS gave $2 toward the expense of each young person going to Camp Byron. They also sent yard goods to Maynard Hospital in Alaska, $5 to the Red Cross, $10 to Church World Service, $5 to the Community Chest, $15 to the Sunday School, plus money toward a new water heater and a redecorating fund.
     That year the WSCS served both Rotary and Kiwanis clubs. That year there were 58 members of, of which only two did not attend any meetings. Devotions were always part of each meeting, and the program was often entertaining, such as when Midge Miller showed a movie of Hawaii and played Hawaiian music.
     In the years since, United Methodist women has conducted many studies, learning about mission and the Bible. UMW has also shifted it’s focus even more to mission, especially toward the welfare of women and children around the world.

Camping []
     The Watertown Methodist Campground was located just outside Watertown, and was a place where families would go during a particular summer week. Each church in the district had its own cabin and they went there with cots and blankets to spend the week. Wildlife was a part of the experience. In order to stay in the cabins it was necessary to chase the mice out. One year a skunk made a visit. On one evening, June bugs were so plentiful that the pastor giving the prayer inadvertently thanked God for bugs. Many grew closer to God as they grew closer to nature.
     Services were held for all ages in the evening in the big dirt-floor tabernacle covered with marsh hay. The Columbus church choir went there to sing one evening each summer. There were lots of activities for young people during the day, and people from many churches got reacquainted.
     More recently, the church has had a weekend campout at the County Campground in Astico. Those in the church who wished to camp out Saturday night would do so, and then on Sunday morning, the regular church service would be held at the campground. It was an enjoyable family event.
     For many years now, we have had children and youth attend Summer Camp at our United Methodist Camps program. This has been memorable and rewarding.

Youth Program []
     Long ago, the youth ministry in Methodist Churches was called the Epworth League, named after the town in which Methodism’s founder, John Wesley grew up, and where his father was pastor. The Epworth League was a wide-spread organization with district and conference meetings.
     The youth group is now called UMYF, or United Methodist Youth Fellowship. We are in the process now of reorganizing regular youth meetings.
     In recent years, youth ministry has included mission trips to Mountain TOP in Tennessee, Red Cliff Reservation, Italy, Chicago, and Milwaukee. During these trips, the youth work together, pray together, and learn together about the needs of the world, and how part of Christianity is caring for the less fortunate.
     Confirmation is another part of youth ministry, and many young people have here confirmed their faith and the vows made for them by their parents at their baptism. Confirmation pictures will soon be framed and put on the wall by the office and library. We soon hope to have 50 years’ worth of confirmation pictures to display.
     United Methodist Youth Convo has been another event to which our youth have travelled ever since the 1970s. This event is filled with worship, music, learning and fun. Each year youth return energized by the experience.
     Youth also planned and led worship once a year in the late 1980s, a practice which we hope to begin again in 2006.

Music []
     Music has always been important to the history of our church. Choir directors and organists have been highly valued, and the ministry of music very much appreciated. Several of these have come from the Wisconsin Academy, and have provided excellent leadership.
     A few highlights:
     In the late 1930s, a church orchestra was organized by the Wilkowske family.
     In 1948, a Junior Choir was organized. This was followed intermittently by a number of incarnations of children’s choirs.
     In 1980, hand bells were purchased from a memorial gift, at a time when few churches had handbells. They are still rung several times a year.
     The adult choir is privileged to have committed long-term members, including Ruth Griffith who has been part of the choir since 1948.

Kum Dubble Klub []
     An interesting chapter in the life of our church can be seen by looking at the activities of the Kum Dubble Klub, a couples club in which you “came double” or in pairs.
     It was founded in 1946 or 1947, with Mildred Henke as secretary and Ruth Griffith as treasurer. In 1959, Kelly Harris was president, and Shirley Farr secretary. It was a very active group, meeting a couple of times a month. Often there was a program provided by a member on a recent trip or by someone in the area with an interesting hobby. In October of 1958, the men of the club went to the Premos to aid in building a hen house.
     Some of the most interesting articles in their scrap book include: A pancake contest in which Clarence Witte participated in which six men ate 182 pancakes in 35 minutes. A pancake supper at the Columbus Methodist Church -- all you can eat for 65¢! In 1948, the club sent 75 pairs of shoes to Switzerland. Rev. R.J. Macwan of India spoke to the group at the Boy Scout clubhouse at the Columbus park. The church building was being remodeled. Five baptisms on one day were performed on July 17, 1949. These babies included Sally Lillian Mather, Gary Lewis Premo and Lynda Lou Herrick. Around 1950, the play Bolts and Nuts was performed in Columbus and Waterloo by members of the Klub. Tickets were the outrageous price of 60¢.

Drama Group []
     A drama group was formed in the late 1970s, and early 80s. It was a reader’s theater group, with nine or 10 people. The group “performed” once on Christmas Eve. Often the group introduced a contemporary reading that was used in addition to the Biblical reading. Sometimes a five-minute drama opened up a topic that led into the sermon.
     The group met monthly in homes on Sunday evenings, and would rehearse three or four things at once, meeting for an hour and a half. The group included people from their 30s to their 60s. Dan Burnard, Ruth Griffith, and Alton & Bernetta Mather were among the actors.

Social Issues []
     Our church has long been involved in social issues. In early years, the social cost of alcohol was a big issue for Methodists, and doubtless was here in Columbus.
     Before recycling was popular, Bob Sanks and Ruth Griffith helped our community to gain a recycling program. With advice from people as far away as Milwaukee, and with many meetings, posters, literature and trips to city hall, it was accomplished.
     In the 1980s, our church was part of the resettlement of a Hmong refugee family. The family was set up in an apartment on the north side of town, and after being settled wound up joining other Hmong families in the Milwaukee area. A story cloth from the family now hangs in our library.
     The church was supportive of literacy services being made available in Columbus, and members have participated in the program for about 20 years.

Columbus Club House []
     Another very important chapter in the mission of this church is the founding of the Columbus Club House in 1988. It happened at a time when our women’s group was serving the Kiwanis, and Cheryl Rew Stapleton had spoken to the women about the needs of working mothers, many of whom had inadequate child care for their school-aged children. It was a time when the United Methodist Women was involved in its Campaign for Children program. The United Methodist Women said that they would help Kiwanis to set up some kind of response to the needs of latch-key children.
     A survey was made up with the help of the high school home economics teacher, and sent home with children up to sixth grade. One of the surprising results of the survey was that many mothers felt that it was acceptable to leave a child as young as ten home alone, and often in charge of younger siblings.
     One of the first ideas was to have a program to call and check in on latch-key children, but it was felt to be not enough. So it was decided to try to offer some kind of program where children could go after school. Those investigating this project found that the state was very strict in terms of the type of building that could be used for childcare purposes. From the very beginning, the school was cooperative, and offered its former Kindergarten room, along with some space in the adjacent cafeteria.
     Our own Mary Baker was active in the project from the start, and is still the director of the program. She and others applied for grants, and asked for donations, and now the program has been expanded to before school with breakfast and for four years now, full days during the summer.
     At the beginning, the morning circle provided snacks for the clubhouse each day. Now the morning circle still supports the clubhouse with several hundred dollars each year. The missions committee, the other circles and UMW, as well as many other community organizations support the clubhouse program, and offer scholarships for those who can’t afford it.
     The program started with six children, and has now grown to 50+ children in the before and after school program. The clubhouse mission statement reads: ”Our primary goal is to provide quality school age child car in a healthy, fun, caring environment.”
     Mary Baker says that “without the faith of the UMW and then the support of the church, it may never have been possible.”

Food Pantry []
     About 1975, a group of people in our church saw that hunger was a problem in our community and decided to start a Food Pantry in Columbus. Lorna Will was among those who called in representatives from other communities that already had pantries. They had group meetings, and asked the representatives of other pantries to tell about what they were trying to do, how they supported it, what kind of schedule they used, what the response was, etc. For the first few years, our church people were the leaders of the food pantry, but after that it branched out to be an ecumenical effort, and has involved City Hall and the police department.
     Now our church is one of several churches which rotate the responsibility of the food pantry. We take on the pantry for a month, once or twice a year in a regular rotation.

Ministry to Care Center and Larson House []
     Last but not least, our church maintains a ministry to both the Larson House and the Columbus Care Center. We are the only church to lead a monthly worship at Larson House. Rev. Sam Batt from our congregation leads Bible studies there once a month. At the care center, our pastor is part of a regular rotation of clergy, and leads the weekly protestant worship there about three times per year. Our pastor has also been part of the on-call pastoral ministry at the Columbus Hospital.