Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Struggling Church Grows in Fort Wayne

Otho Winger, writing his History of the Church of the Brethren in Indiana, says: "In the city of Fort Wayne there has been a struggling church for nearly twenty years." The beginning of the Church of the Brethren in Fort Wayne dates to the first Brethren family moving there in 1889. By February 1897 a church was organized with 14 charter members. A building was constructed in 1901.

While the church began as a cooperative effort of the mission boards of both Middle and Northern Indiana districts, the work was finally given over to Northern Indiana and by 1906 there were 45 members. Then trouble within the church almost disorganized it as the membership dwindled to just a few people. The doors of the church were actually closed for a time in 1913 and consideration was given to selling the property.

A turning point came in 1925 with the hiring of Wilbur Bantz as the first full-time pastor and the congregation grew rapidly. On January 20, 1952 a group of about 50 from the congregation met with Charles Zunkel of the denominational offices to talk about how new churches were being started throughout the country. By 1952 there was a need for a new church in Fort Wayne as the membership was over 400. Within weeks a committee was formed and an option taken on a tract of land on Beacon Street. A first worship service of the Beacon Heights Church was held on September 7, 1952.

Meanwhile, the Fort Wayne Church on Smith Street continued to grow until it was decided a new and larger church building was needed. Property was purchased on South Calhoun Street which led to a new building and a new name - the Lincolnshire Church of the Brethren.

From a struggling church that nearly closed its doors for good, came two strong churches.

Planting the Faith in a New Land: Church of the Brethren in Indiana