That’s about all that needs to be said about the soon-to-be closed Homer United Methodist Church. The tiny congregation, part of the Stratford Charge of five churches, will say its last amen at a 9:30 a.m. service June 22. It’s likely to be an emotional end to more than 150 years of friends and family united.
People like Sharon Jewell, who says she’s not sure it’s really hit anyone yet that this is the end, that the church is not going be part of the close-knit, though tiny, community any longer. She’s not embarrassed to say she spent four days crying about the decision.
Then there’s Esther Gripp, who says the congregation seems to be in total shock that the end finally has come. After all, at least three fundraising dinners were held each year, and a bazaar connected with one of them, to make enough money to pay the bills. All that work is for nothing now. The church will close, a victim of a shrinking population.
The stagecoach used to run through Homer, for heaven sake. That meant something. The town itself, with 600 residents, outpaced both Fort Dodge and Webster City — called New Castle at the time. In fact, in 1853, the town was the county seat for the area now split into Hamilton and Webster counties. It wanted to be the county seat for the newly made Webster County, but that didn’t happen.
Circuit rider rides in
After a Methodist circuit rider rode into town in 1853, according to Marilyn Bottorff, the church took root. A building for this new Methodist church didn’t happen right away — not until 1866 — but that building stands today on Homer’s Main Street, named so in modern times when Hamilton County gave fire numbers and names to all roads in the area. The little church now has a basement, too. The building was raised in 1924 and a basement dug with horses and scrapers. A back door to the basement was added in the early 1980s to meet fire codes.
Gripp’s great-grandparents, Joseph and Nancy Pearce, gave timber from their land a few miles south to make the framework of the church back in 1866. It’s all hand-hewn lumber. She tells the story with pride. And at the Homer Cemetery, she tries to read, in vain, the small script that’s wearing off the tombstone of Joseph and Nancy Pearce — he born Sept. 19, 1808, and died June 26, 1886; she born May 30, 1817, and died Jan. 14, 1897.
Hamilton County has plans, Jewell says, to designate the cemetery a pioneer cemetery; giving the final resting place of the early Homer pioneers a permanent place in Iowa history. Attempts will be made to locate unmarked graves.
Gripp’s ancestors, it seems, had a lot to do with the little church. A great-great-uncle, Otis Woodard, made the communion table by hand, right down to the legs. Her grandma Mary Woodard’s table was used for an altar for many years and now stands at the back of the church. Her family helped put electricity into the church. She laughs when she says if the lights are turned on, she has to be good. Someone might be watching.
Oh, the memories. Jewell shakes her head slowly when the women talk about the church and its pieces of faith. Two pictures on the front wall — Jesus with a flock of sheep and the Lord’s Supper — were purchased with money donated by Sunday school children a nickel at a time. Church members raised money for a piano, and two organs were donated.
The fan that circulates air on muggy summer Sunday mornings honors Jewell’s mother, giving Jewell her own sense of closeness when she’s in church. And when the fan gets to a certain speed, it hums, Bottorff said, insisting she could hear the woman talking. No question about it, Jewell says, her mother is there and watching. Her dad used to come over to the church on Saturday nights to start the coal furnace so the place offered a welcoming warmth on Sunday mornings.
She laughs again when she tells about the time — as the story goes — coal kept disappearing. Finally one winter night, the church fathers found footprints in the snow and more coal was missing, so they tracked the culprit, who turned out to be an elderly widow. Nothing was done; in a congregation like the Homer Methodist Church, no one could begrudge a widow coal on a winter night.
The old pot-bellied stove at the front of the church gave off just enough heat to keep the faithful from freezing, but it also turned the communion railing a darker color at that spot. Likely from the smoke and heat, Jewell says.
Pieces of the little church aren’t just old — they’re pieces of history more than 150 years in the making, from an original bench to original woven collection baskets, one for the women’s side and one for the men’s side. Spindle chairs remain ready, just not used. Those, too, are original. These are the special things the women worry about — they don’t want them to end up in some dark corner of a basement or tossed out with the trash. History like this needs a proper place to live.
New homes needed
Along with such historic pieces that will need a new home are things like a chiming wall clock donated to the church more than 30 years ago and a latch hook wall hanging of the Methodist flame. There are four chairs and a baptismal font donated to the church from Asbury United Methodist in Webster City when it was remodeled, and all the pews with seat cushions, which could have been donated or maybe made by women of the church. That call is still out.
To be returned
Items donated to the church will be given back to the families, Jewell said. If the families want them. Otherwise, something else will be done with them.
For the handful of folk who attend services every Sunday morning, none of that matters. What matters now is what will happen when the Rev. Remigio Paniaqui leads them one last time in a closing prayer:
“Loving and merciful Father, we now leave this place of worship and we go forth in service; we pray that you fill us with your grace, so that we may live in confident assurance of your promise of love, mercy and salvation given to us through the cross of your Son, Jesus Christ, our savior and friend. Amen.î
Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Fact BoxThe end has come:
WHO: Homer United Methodist Church.
WHAT: Last service; the church will be closed.
WHEN: 9:30 a.m. June 22.
WHERE: At the church on Homer’s Main Street.
THE SERVICE is open to everyone.
CHURCH PASTOR is the Rev. Remigio Panlaqui; lay minister assistant is Gina Sponheimer.
THE CHURCH is part of the five-point Stratford Charge including Duncombe United Methodist, Stratford Calvary United Methodist, South Marion United Methodist and Maguire Bend United Brethren, in addition to the Homer church.