Small, aging congregation raises approximently $30,000 to repair building roof and basement and keep church going.
The West Liberty Church of Christ has been spreading the good news of the Gospel since 1867.
But times have changed for the little white church seven miles west of Montezuma.
A declining and aging membership, a building in need of repairs, fewer people in the rural area for the church to draw from, and as minister Tom Collier says, many seeking ‘modern worldly entertainments’ over a commitment to the Christian life,” caused the church to nearly close its doors earlier this year.
Then a miracle happened.
Just as Jesus fed the 5,000 with five loafs and fishes, the aging congregation of 16 joined together, opened their pocketbooks and raised approximately $30,000 to save the church.
“We did it with no outside help,” Collier said. “The members wanted to keep the congregation going.”
That has led to the first phase of rebuilding the church, which got underway this week.
Gene’s Roofing and Construction of Grinnell has been hired to remove and replace the native timber roof of the church building.
Once that is completed, Scott Morrow, owner of Morrow Construction of Deep River, will repair the north basement wall and tile around the entire building to prevent flooding, as was experienced with the heavy rains earlier this year.
None of this would have happened if not for an emergency beacon sent out by Central Iowa Missions, a Des Moines-based organization that sends preachers out all across the atate and works to strengthen smaller churches.
Word got out that West Liberty was without a full-time minister. Collier, who is part of Central Iowa Missions and a member of Grandview Church of Christ in Des Moines, heeded the call to help the Montezuma church.
Since February, Collier and his wife, Dianne, have been making the trek from Des Moines to Montezuma to preach the gospel and help get the church back on track.
“The whole thing was getting everyone (the church congregation) positive,” Collier said. “We came down and got everything back on a regular schedule.”
Collier said the biggest obstacle was building up the church morale and setting up a worship structure.
“They needed somebody to at least take the pulpit regularly,” Collier said.
“It would be a shame to lose this historic Iowa landmark of Christian worship — not for the building’s sake, but for what it would say about our commitment to our Judeo-Christian culture,” added Collier.
What’s amazing is some members are in their 80s, and the majority of them grew up in the church and have attended since the 1940s and 1950s.
“Their relatives are in the graveyard (surrounding the church),” said Collier.
Pauline Ell, 88, a member of the church since the 1920s, who has family buried in the church cemetery, said she wants to see the work of the church carried on for future generations.
In the last 20 years, Ell said nearly 30 church members have passed away, leading to dwindling numbers.
“The kids grow up and go off to college and move on some-place else for jobs and don’t come back to the community,” she said.
Ell said she’s pleased with what is going on in the church. Once the building improvements are completed, Ell said members will have a safer and healthier place to worship and gather.
“Everybody seemed to want to carry on the work at the church,” she said. “We got a good preacher. We hope people will get more interested in what the Bible says.”
Among some of the first settlers in Sugar Creek Township in 1847, the brethren found it necessary in the rearing of their families, to have a common place of worship. They originally held worship services in their homes, but in 1857, the members of the church began meeting in the log house belonging to Robert Franklin Steele. And as the congregation grew, they moved to a barn, which was renovated to serve as a place of worship.
Then in 1867 the present building, which stands today in the midst of the West Liberty Cemetery, was constructed using hand hewn native timber on land belonging to Richard Rivers. Taken from the History of Poweshiek County Iowa, Vol 1, it states, “The church building was erected in 1867 at a cost of $1,200 and was dedicated by Rev. A. Reynolds who became its pas-tor. Adjoining the church yard is a burial ground.” In 1869 the first deed to the land was given to the elders of the church.
Time has stood still in this old church meeting house. You can see the original pulpit put in use in 1876, used by generations of preachers, still being used today to preach the Gospel every Sunday morning. Down the road
When asked what the future for the church holds, Collier said he plans to keep preaching and keep the church doors open. He said the church needs young families to get involved.
“We want people to know we still have a heartbeat and will keep preaching the Old Time Gospel,” he said. “We teach first century Christianity without any creeds or books, other than the Bible.”
The church meets at 9:30 a.m. Sunday for Bible class, and 10:30 a.m. for Sunday worship. Every fourth Friday of the month, a singing fellowship is held beginning at 7 p.m.
For more information, contact the West Liberty Church of Christ at westlibertychurchofchrist.org.
Tom Collier, minister of the church, can be reached at 515-276-4726 or Rodney Playle, church treasurer, can be reached at 641-295-3152.