On Sunday 15 May, Glenn Oxender told stories of his grandparents, George and Bessie Sherck. George was the first pastor of Florence Church at its inception in 1931. I share his stories and photos below.
History of Florence Church 1931-1950
Written by Glenn Oxender for Florence Church Service
May 15, 2011
Written by Glenn Oxender for Florence Church Service
May 15, 2011
[Glenn opened by singing...]
“Johnny Get Your Gun, Your Sword and Pistol
and We’ll all take a Ride to Bristol;
Johnny forgot his gun, sword and pistol
so he couldn’t go along to Bristol.
“Sing says the donkey to his little lass,
and if you don’t sing any better I won’t give you any grass,
‘Hee Haw, Hee Haw, Hee Haw, Hee Haw!’”
Now what do these little songs have to do with the beginning of Florence Church. These were little songs taught to me when I was pretty young as I set on my Grandfathers lap, the retired minister from Florence Church.
Now that was in the 1950’s so let’s back the story up to see how the church began on May 8, 1931 in a little old brick building built in 1876 in Florence Township. Every good story begins with a leading gentleman and two lovely ladies as does the beginning of Florence Church.
Now the story begins with a handsome man named George born in 1879 in Florence Township, who met a lovely lady named Bessie Schrock from the Bristol area of Indiana. George you see had moved northwest of Middlebury and attended Pleasant Valley Church of the Brethren. Unfortunately, George was four years older than Bessie so he could hardly wait to court the beautiful Bessie. However the day came and George dated Bessie and they were married in 1901.
George and Bessie Sherck got very involved in the Middlebury community in both farming and even owning the hardware. Both had a deep heritage in the Church of the Brethren so when they moved into Middlebury without a church, they were involved in starting the Middlebury Church of the Brethren in 1911.
George and Bessie were blessed with five daughters, who after becoming farm hands, went to Manchester College and became teachers.
In 1916 the family moved to a farm west of Middlebury where the present day Essenhaus is and continued farming. Nobody knows for sure but God, but I believe here is where the seeds of the beginning of Florence came from because George in 1917 got so sick with the flu and pneumonia that he nearly died. His weaken condition required him to rent the farm out and seek a job in Shipshewana as the telephone company for three years. Here he attended the Lupold Church of the Brethren and became the ordained minister for this Shipshewana Church.
This church is where the second leading lady Lillian Reed, also known as Grandma Reed met George. No, she didn’t run away with the preacher, but she persuaded George to travel to Michigan and have evening revival meetings in the Oak Grove School House on Neaman Road. This courtship with Florence Township by revival meetings continued and Grandma Reed began Sunday school in the community. Eventually the persuasive Grandma Reed enticed George and Bessie to sell their farm and move to a farm on Engle Rd in Florence Township. After two years of Sunday schools and revivals the Florence Church of the Brethren was officially organized on May 8, 1931 by the Northern Indiana District.
Now George and Grandma Reed didn’t do it alone, because Bessie was always by the side of George in his ministry. Jim Tomlonson, a grandchild, describes the team like this, “My memories of Grandpa and Grandma’s religious and spiritual life made a strong impression on me. Of the two, she seemed to possess the stronger sense and understanding of God and the Christian walk. Why? Because she was a nurturer and Grandpa was the proclaimer. She worked with Grandpa as he prepared for Sunday Worship by helping to select scriptures and writing down his notes. I can image that they even ‘talked’ the sermon through before Sunday services. Another granddaughter describes her image of grandma setting down each Sunday morning with George and writing out the sermon in longhand at his desk in the kitchen.
How did Grandpa George preach? The oldest grandson describes him as having a strong presence in the pulpit. My brother puts it a little more strongly that he pounded the pulpit, spoke in a loud voice and sometimes gave sermons of the “Hell, Fire and Brimstone” nature. He would always begin by giving the announcements and then turning to Bessie and saying “Now Bessie did I miss anything?” Bessie would reply, “No George I think you have covered it!
The early church started and continued in the German Reformed building in the early 30’s. The building was one big open room with a potbelly stove in the back, a 16 inch high stage in the front with a piano and an ornate pulpit adorned with acorns. However when they wanted to add an interior two story set of 5 classrooms in back, they needed permission for the owners. There were no owners, so they got a 30 year lease for $3 from three former members of the Reformed church
The early charter members of Florence included our three main characters George, Bessie and Lillian plus Arthur and Nannie Reed, her son, and her husband Frank, the couples Russell and Kathryn Searer and Harry and Myrtle Oxender were appointed as original deacons, Russell and Alice Lantz, Mrs. John Boles, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Hoyt and other family members.
The early Florence Church program had Sunday School at 10:00 am with a small opening by the SS Superintendent followed by 45 minutes of classes with the Worship Service at 11:00. Full communions were help in the sanctuary on four plain wooden tables. Pews were turned to the tables and linen clothes covered the tables until the meal. Feet washing, beef and sop meal with communion bread and cup followed and as a child seemed to last forever. They would have evening revivals for a week with guest pastors about twice a year.
A Harvest Festival in the Fall was celebrated with church in morning, dinner, and church in the afternoon. In fact I can remember when one of the stray balls from the game came through the stained glass window in the back. Business meetings were usually on Sunday evenings and in the later 40’s a summer Bible School was held each year. The Ladies had a Ladies Aid group that I believe met monthly and I’m sure Grandma Sherck and Alice Lantz were very active in the making of comforters and clothes. The men’s group plus some neighbors each year had a pop corn project that the profits went to the building fund for the next major improvement in 1956.
Both my brother and sister were baptized in a temporary tank in the front of the church by trine immersion as teenagers. Both say that you knew you were dunked when Grandpa George did the baptism. Also baptisms were held in Klinger Lake.
George Sherck was a strong man and was always involved in the “free ministry”. During his ministry he made his lively hood at farming 100 acres and building many barns in the area. My father and my older brother helped him many times. Wayne describes Grandpa’s skills as a carpenter as follows. “I marvel, more so today (2002), at how a man with an eighth grade education could take a carpenter’s square and lay out four walls of a barn on the ground. The wooden corner races, mortised wood tongues and grooves were all cut with the use of his wood tools, which were always very sharp. Many times I watched him put on his specs, sit on a log and sharpen tools with his file.
When the four sides were pinned with wooden pegs into one complete wall, the barn was ready to be raised. The raising was a big event for two reasons, because it took a big crew of neighbors to hoist the first end up in the air to a vertical position. Second the ridge up 30 or 40 feet high had to be attached with a 2x8 running the length of the building. Grandpa’s favorite activity was attaching the ridge. He would slide his fanny along the ridge pole and nail the top of the rafters in place. He would holler “bring on another rafter” to his crew until he had worked the entire length of barn some 50 feet distance.
Later he crafted round roofed barns that took some great skill to make the rounded rafters. The nearest one is the Ely barn just ¾ mile north of the church.
Grandpa was a carpenter and the grandchildren loved playing with his tools in the upper story of his granary and drilling holes in the floor. Many stories could be told of this fun loving man and some I would have to tell you outside of church. However one stands out with most grandchildren. Grandpa Sherck as a carpenter had some walnut trees sawed and he was drying them in the top of the corn crib. He sent my father Harry up to shake up the boards to get the rats out. However as the rats started running out, Grandpa used his full choke shot gun to try and destroy the rats. However, the result was a corn crib with many air conditioning holes in the roof.
Unfortunately this fun loving leading man grew older and in the late 40’s started the early stages of “hardening of the arteries” or Alzheimer’s as we call it today. Bessie had to go to the Florence Church Board and have them encourage George to retire in 1947.
The Florence Church had several guest speakers for a time and in 1948 the Rev. Glenn Rummel began the first part time paid pastorate at Florence. He built the small cement house just ½ mile southwest of the church and began his work. Glenn and his wife Martha with their two sons led Florence into the decade of the 50’s and left in 1956 to do mission work in Kentucky. Rev. Rummel was a very detailed pastor and kept a historical record of the events of the church with a file of his Sunday bulletins of each service. He and his wife were very dedicated to the community and the church. He exchanged detailed Christmas greetings with our family until he passed away at 99 years of age. Dianne and I still receive a Christmas letter from Merle their son each year asking about Florence Church.
We are now past the first two decades of the 50’s, but I would be remiss without sharing a little more about Bessie’s strong faith. George and Bessie moved to Goshen and celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. However Bessie wasn’t done sharing her faith as described in this excerpt from a lady in West Goshen Church of the Brethren.
“Retirement wasn’t in Bessie’s vocabulary. In the year 1948 she inspired and encouraged the ladies to become more involved in several new areas in the work of the church. This resulted in organizing the “Women’s Work” with Bessie as the president. Since our church has always stuck to the ‘traditional’, it was difficult to make changes. But with her leadership and determination, new groups were formed including, Homebuilders, Bible Study, Peace and Temperance, Missions and relief sewing.
Bessie was very helpful in sharing God’s love by her spirit-filled devotions, her Sunday School teaching, and her ever day living. She made hundreds of little girls’ dresses making each one different and pretty with extra trimmings. Although, she suffered with arthritis for many years, she never left it get her down. She continued to play her organ, learn chapters of the Bible.
Dianne and I visited her in the nursing home after 1969 and asked her what she thought of placing a man on the moon. She wasn’t too excited because she said, “If God had wanted a man on the moon, then He would have put him there.”
Bessie was a very strong straight laced lady and when my father was courting her daughter Myrtle, he brought some rook cards for a game. She promptly put them in the stove and burned them. However that didn’t put out the fire because my father Harry was married to Myrtle by George Sherck at the Engle Road Farm in 1930.
Bessie’s favorite scripture was the 23nd Psalm and I will share with you today Florence’s first lady’s favorite devotion from her own handwriting and a description of the “Ideal Church”. I also will leave a collection of her handwritten devotions if you would like to browse them.
The 23th Psalm by Bessie Sherck
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” I shall not want for anything but my shepherd. He is strong and wise and wonderful. And he loves me although he knows my faults, and even the sin and selfishness that beset me. He loves me for what I am, and when I am tired and weary.
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures” In the lush green grass I rest and he stands guard over my thoughts so no disturbing ones enter in. I let go of my burdens and cares. I am still and know that he is God. When I am rested and refreshed and ready to start on earth’s journey again,
“He leadeth me besides the still waters.” I set there in the quiet evening and see the sun sink behind the mountains. In the golden hour my heart finds peace, my strivings cease and I surrender to his will. And then
“He restoreth my soul” Yes he takes my hand and holds it fast while we walk past the many forks in the road. How easily I could have chosen the wrong one, had He not been with me, but
“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake” It is a narrow path…but of how beautify!! The birds sing in the early morning while the grass is wet with dew; the sun shines and the air is fresh and pure; If I let go off the shepherd’s hand and wonder off and get lost in the deep forest of wilderness,
“Yes, though I walk through the valley and shadow of death, I will fear no evil” He will seek me until he finds me. And when I grow weary and faint and falter because fear chokes me. And my vision fails me as the shadows grow deeper and darker then I remember
“For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” They protect me from all ills,
“Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies” Whose names are fear, worry, selfishness and insecurity. When they see me drink of gladness joy and eat of perfect peace they leave me and then
“Thou anointest my head with oil” The gentleness of his hands almost makes my heart burst asunder with happiness yes or yes
“My cup runneth over” It is too full now, I have room for no more. There is no limit to the abundance of gifts
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” As we walk along together one day at dusk---I shall come to the end of the road---I shall stop and far off in the distance I shall see a mansion---It is magnificent in its glory---It is a house not made with hands and only the seeing eye of the soul can see it.
I shall bow down and worship as my heart leaps with gladness All the song birds sing and little children laugh and sing and echo back into the chorus of the saints gone on before. All my yesterdays and all the many tomorrows I have forgotten
“I shall dwell in the house of the Lord”
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++Grandma Sherck later in life wrote this devotional description named the “Ideal Church”
1. Enthusiastic church and Joyous
2. Bible believing
3. Unity and Love
4. Praying church
5. Ministers to needs of people
7. Missionary Spirit
8. Generous church
9. Temperate church
This church can only become the ideal if it begins in me.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF GEORGE AND BESSIE SHERCK