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by DJ Kauffman Correspondent · June 1st, 2017


More than 20 years before the American Civil War, circuit riding preachers tirelessly began commuting on horseback or in carriages from town to town bringing the gospel to early Iowa pioneers. And those who gathered to greet the most honored guests surely straightened bonnets and adjusted suspenders in anticipation of their arrival.

Many of those who faithfully traveled the dusty roads were Methodist ministers, and according to Marion First United Methodist Church Pastor Michael L. Morgan, Marionites were among those who welcomed the weary itinerate visitors from the Rock Island, Illinois circuit.

There was no fancy meeting house for the band of believers at first; the Marion Methodist church services in 1840 were held under a shade tree.

Morgan said, "What people refer to as Christian music, is really any tune with a Christian theme." And most of the early preachers would hold a copy of words to songs, while singing them to tunes most of the people already knew.

The following story is told about the sturdiness of one Marion pioneer woman during the 1840s, Mrs. Bardwell (wife of Dr. Bardwell who was away at the time), and a circuit riding preacher on page 349 in the History of Linn County, Iowa: "The season was Winter and the roads were in bad condition. The bread stuffs were getting low, and to cap the climax, along came the Methodist circuit rider. The minister's horse had to be cared for as well as the person himself, and fate seemed to compel Mrs. Bardwell to use her wits pretty actively.

"A storm set in, and the worthy visitor's appetite began to tell on the flour barrel. At last the bread was entirely gone and some substitute had to be secured.

With the barrel empty, Mrs. Bardwell did not bother the preacher with the dire situation, but she took charge during the emergency. She traveled three-quarters of a mile to her neighbors', past awaiting hungry wolves and through inclement weather, where she borrowed corn for a "large dish of home-made hominy."

Morgan said the Marion Methodist congregation held their first indoor meetings in 1845, one year prior to Iowa becoming a state. They temporarily met in the unused Linn County Courthouse, located in Marion, which was the Linn County seat in the Iowa Territory.

History Of Iowa, By Dorothy Schwieder, professor of history, Iowa State University, says, "The Methodists profited greatly from their 'floating ministry,' attracting hundreds of converts in Iowa's early years. As more settled communities appeared, the Methodist Church assigned ministers to these stationary charges."

The Methodists later built their first building on the corner of 10th Street and 6th Avenue (currently the Marion Heritage Center). According to The History of Marion, Iowa, A 20th Century Journey From the Past to Present (Marion Independent School District), construction on the new building began in 1850 and was completed in 1855. The church was used until 1874." And after a church split, "Father Bromwell" was "the only member of the original congregation left.

The following is taken from the Journals of Marvin Oxley, "There had been a 'Builder's Society' in the congregation of the Marion Methodist Church for several years. The ladies belonging to it had been raising money by serving dinners, holding bazaars, and other activities.

"On January 21, 1892, D. E. Voris and C. H. Kurtz, acting as a committee from the church, purchased the Draper property, diagonally across from the Presbyterian Church. Eli Draper had died in April, 1891, and his wife Clara was paid the sum of $2,500 for part lots 3 and 4 of block 15.

"On October 20th of that year, the Conference sent Rev. J. G. Van Ness here as pastor, he remained here until after the new church was dedicated in 1896. The cornerstone was laid in 1895 on the corner of 12st Street and 8th Avenue for what is now known as the First United Methodist Church." [The History of Marion, Iowa; A 20th Century Journey From the Past to Present. Marion Independent School District]

Much remodeling has taken place since the cornerstone was first laid. There are now three building sections combined into one-the classrooms, a handicapped accessible entrance and chapel area, and the original large sanctuary.

"Every corner of the church has meaning," Pastor Morgan said. He also attended the First United Methodist Church in Marion as a youth, Iowa Wesleyan College, the University of Denver, and served at Simpson College in Webster City, Iowa before becoming lead pastor in Marion during 2003.

Since then, the congregation has grown to 2,200. This is why the structurally sound property is currently for sale at a cost of 1.3 million dollars. According to Morgan, the 42,000 SF facility is not large enough to accommodate all of their needs. He said "access is the biggest thing for us."

A few private potential buyers have shown interest in the property, but if the building and grounds does not sell by July 1, they will look into listing it with a realtor, Morgan said.

They first began thinking about looking for land in 2004, and finally decided to purchase a 27 acre property with great visibility on the corner of Hwy 13 and 35th Avenue for their new church.

Currently, Morgan said 95 percent of the congregation, including the 13 full and part-time staff, is in favor of the move, and they have decided on a more modern design for their new church building.

Morgan explained in a recent interview, how people's perception of what a church should look like, varies. He said, some think a church building should have a tall steeple and stained-glass windows, while others think the design should be more simplistic.

Morgan said they are planning to remove three stained-glass windows from in the current sanctuary - depicting Jesus, Moses, and a Grand Army of the Republic tribute, and make them a central entrance piece at the new facility. They, also first thought to replicate the steeple as a way of preserving the old, but it would cost two million dollars Morgan said. "Purpose outweighs preferences."

SERVICE TIMES

Sunday7:45 a.m. Chapel Service

Sunday8:30 a.m. Spirited Traditional Service -Sanctuary

Sunday9:45 a.m. Sunday SchoolContemporary Worship Service - Sanctuary

Sunday11:00 a.m. Blended Contemporary Servce - Sanctuary

Call 319.377.4856 or visit marionmethodist.org for more information.
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808 6th St. Suite 1
Marion, Iowa 52302
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