The Fellowship of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in Churubusco will celebrate its 175th anniversary on Sunday. The public is invited to attend this celebration of one of the oldest churches in Allen County.
Wesley Chapel was organized in the spring of 1837 by a few pioneer families in northwest Allen County who saw the need for religious meetings. Now the congregation will celebrate their 175 years of existence in a special service on Sunday. The following events will occur during the anniversary celebration:
*Sunday morning service will be held from 10-11:30 a.m. and will be led by Wesley Chapel Senior Pastor the Rev. Larry L. Smith.
*A special presentation ceremony about the history of the church will be held from 1-2:30 p.m. Speakers will include Smith, Fort Wayne United Methodist Church District Superintendent David Michaels, Pastor the Rev. David Dilley, the Rev. Jack Thompson, Wesley Chapel Lay Pastor Kevin Thomas and Bob Bowker. A video address by Indiana United Methodist Church Bishop Mike Coyner will be shown. The Wesley Chapel Praise Team will also perform songs during the anniversary celebration.
*There will be a finale musical performance by local country music Christian singers Ron & Sharon Frazier beginning at 2:45 p.m. in the sanctuary.
The public is invited to attend this special event. The Fellowship of Wesley Chapel UMC is located at 13733 Wesley Chapel Road, two miles west of Johnson Road and at the west end of Hathaway Road. It is approximately 3 miles southeast of Churubusco. For specific directions to the church, look at the map on the Fellowship of Wesley Chapel UMC website: www.fwcumc.org.
The Fellowship of Wesley Chapel UMC is led by Pastor Smith, a native of Churubusco who attended this church as a youngster and returned years later to preach in his home church. Pastor Smith and his wife, Rose Ann, have been the pastoral team at this church for the past 20 years.
When Wesley Chapel was originally founded by a handful of pioneer families in 1837, it was the first place of Christian worship in Eel River Township in northwest Allen County. These families began meeting at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John McKee during the winter months. The congregation met at the Old Hickory School on the John Mayo farm during the spring, and, when the weather was nice, they met in a grove. The church started with 10 members and has continued to serve the northwest Allen County community through today.
The pioneer families who organized the church did so at a time that Methodism was sweeping the United States. The Methodism movement was brought to the United States in the 1700's by two Christian evangelical preachers/brothers from England — John and Charles Wesley.
The Methodist movement began when John Wesley took to open-air preaching. Methodism was a successful evangelical movement which encouraged people to experience Jesus Christ personally. His contribution to this religion was to appoint itinerant, unordained preachers who traveled widely to evangelize and care for people in the Christian societies which were formed.
Members of the Wesley Chapel church named their new church in honor of Methodist preacher John Wesley. It was originally called “Wesley Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church.” The name has been changed a few times over the years, with the latest change occurring in 2003 to the Fellowship of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church.
The church name was incorporated for a major construction project in which a new 7,000 square foot Fellowship Hall was added between 2003 and 2005.
Expansion and growth
The Wesley Chapel church has been physically expanded several times throughout its 175-year history.
Some of the changes have included:
*In 1843, a hand-hewn log house was built and used as a place of worship.
*In 1865, the congregation built the present church building on ground donated by Joseph Johnston. The building was 40 feet by 60 feet and cost $2,500. At the time, there were two entrances and two aisles. The heat was furnished by two large, box-style stoves where wood was burned. There was no vestibule, but there were two doors, which opened into the main room. The dedication of the new building occurred on Feb. 18, 1866.
*The church was remodeled in 1891-1893 when the two aisles were reduced to one, and a belfry with new bell was added. The bell is still used today.
*In the spring of 1927, the congregation constructed a basement under the church. The basement consisted of three rooms — a kitchen, a dining room and a furnace room.
*In 1935, old plastering was removed and new plastering was applied.
*In October 1937, electricity was installed in the church.
*In 1952, a balcony, four classrooms, a cloak room, and a storage room were added to the back of the church. In addition, a public address system, electric pump, electric stove and cupboards were added to the kitchen in the basement.
*In 1955, a lighted exterior bulletin board and a new roof were added to the church. The exterior church walls were also painted at this time.
*In January 1963, members of the church rebuilt the sanctuary, laid new carpeting and furnished it with new furniture.
*In the fall of 1963, the exterior walls of the church were repainted.
*In May 1964, the congregation decided to add new indoor restrooms to the church. So construction of a new addition to the northeast side of the church was started. In addition, a new well and septic system was installed.
*On July 1, 1964, the church parking lot was expanded when the grounds were leveled and covered with crushed stone.
*In June 1970, two additional exits were added to the basement and part of the balcony was converted into a nursery.
*In 1976, the church purchased a parsonage on Johnson Road.
*In 1989, the church purchased an additional 7.3 acres of land immediately west of the current church property.
*In 1994, a new furnace and central air conditioning unit was installed in the church, and the first floor carpeting was replaced. An outside basketball court was also laid.
*In 1995, church members built a pavilion behind the church. This effort was led by Luther Gross. The pavilion has been used for church picnics, Vacation Bible School and live Christmas Nativity scenes.
*In 2002, the church members began discussing the need for a new Fellowship Hall. The new addition would include a new fellowship hall, kitchen, handicap-accessible restrooms, classrooms, a nursery and office for the pastor. The project began with breaking ground to install a new septic system.
*In 2003, the church was incorporated and the name was changed to the Fellowship of Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church Incorporated.
*On March 2, 2004, Fellowship of Wesley Chapel UMC members voted to construct a new 7,000 square foot fellowship hall.
*On March 21, 2004, groundbreaking was held for the new addition.
*In June 2004, steel arrived for construction of the new walls. Gary Parker, a nearby resident who has assisted the Wesley Chapel church throughout many years and saw the importance of the fellowship hall project, donated his time and finances to help construct the concrete and steel foundation. The interior construction was completed by men, women and children of the church who gathered on many Saturdays to build the new addition.
*In March 2005, the church secured a loan for the project from the Indiana United Methodist Loan Fund. In addition, the Allen County Commissioners approved moving the road in front of the church to provide additional room for the new building.
*In November 2005, the church congregation held a dedication of the new fellowship hall. Fort Wayne UMC District Superintendent Lamar Imes was present for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Approximately 150 individuals attended the dedication service and lunch to celebrate completion of the new fellowship hall.
On Wesley Chapel's 100th anniversary celebration in 1937, members of the congregation reflected on their faith and their church. They said, “After 100 years, we had assembled at Wesley Chapel Methodist Church, Oct. 17, 1937, to reflect on the tireless, enduring faith and dominating influence of 100 years of Methodism upon this community. We may be confident that the Spirit that has directed God's heralds hitherto fore will continue to guide right our pilgrim feet in paths of righteousness for his name sake. Though we that are here shall fall asleep in Christ, yet his church must stand, for he has promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Today, the Wesley Chapel congregation spirit is alive and continues to serve the Lord's kingdom like the pioneer families who carved out this community with businesses, schools and a church. This church family now continues its march toward the 200th anniversary of continuous service to the northwest Allen County community.