Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Paradise Prairie

It had the most promising name for any congregation in the southwest, but that did not guarantee a long life. The Paradise Prairie church in Oklahoma was organized in 1892 by Jacob Appleman with twenty charter members. It prospered for many years, calling 8 men of the congregation to the ministry and reaching a membership of more than eighty members while counting among its active young people a future meteorologist of world reknown (Harvey Nininger) and an educator and writer (Cecil B. Williams).

Williams would tell the church's story in the form of a novel, published in 1953. The book, Paraidse Prairie, describes the farm family, the rural community, and the Brethren congregation that nurtured Williams boyhood and youth. Though in the form of fiction, the book retains the actual names of places and institutions that were important in the author's memories and offers a faithful portrayal of familiar Brethren practices.

Williams writes, "...Whatever the soul of America is ... it has got to be what has been created through the lives of men like my father, and through the dreams of people like those who established the Paradise Prairie Church of the Brethren. It's not a story of success so much as a story of stumbling and falling and getting up again, always aspiring." Of the dream of the early settlers who started the church he writes, "The name of Paradise Prairie was the monument of a dream more than anything else. But it had been a significant dream."

Emigration of young families, begun in the 1920s, weakened the congregation financially and in leadership. Older members died or moved away until the church was disorganized in 1963.

Source: The Brethren Encyclopedia