The 'Little Country Church' Enjoys 129-Year History

by Rosa Hatfield, Times Union Correspondent

A small country church stands by the side of the road in Palestine. It members are a determined lot and despite four closing and three near closings, the church has survived.

The Palestine Bible Church on Ind. 25 dates back to May 13, 1868. Joseph Everly, Robert Mitchell, William Sarber, John Sarber and Martin Hatfield accepted the responsibility of acting as trustees to procure ground and build a house of worship. There were also charged with locating, properly laying off and taking care of a graveyard. Sometime between 1868 and 1873, the church was erected.

The early history of the church is very much connected to the history of the cemetery. The body of Mary Sarber was the first burial in the Palestine Cemetery in 1868. Older tombstones do appear in the cemetery but these were moved from across the road and creek.

The first near closing of the church came in 1875. Members considered selling what ws then called the "Christian Chapel" property, but it was retained when one member voted against the sale. In 1890, the church was moved to its present location, several hundred yards northwest of the spot it was built. In the process, the building was turned around and parishioners entered and exited the church by the pulpit of the newly named Palestine Christian Church. Hard times hit the church again in 1896 it closed its doors. The church remained inactive until April 1900, but God had more in store for this little country church.

A man named W. T. Morgan reopened the church and started the Sunday school in 1900. W. L. Barnau was called to pastor for $250 per year. A church bell, made from 1,300 pounds of steel, was purchased for $67.50. But these enthusiastic efforts were short-lived and the church soon closed. The Mentone Church of Christ and Warsaw Church of God used the idle building until the church was reopened in 1902.

This new revival lasted only until 1906. The congregation was without a preacher and lacked funds to hire one. The church remained empty for five years. In 1912, evangelist H. E. Wilhite and singer F. H. Shaul held services once again in Palestine. The group of 13 turned in to 47, and then finally into a membership of 60. New hymnals were purchased to sing praises to God.

Throughout the 1920s, the church prospered. Carpets, blinds, fence and double doors were purchased. On May 19, 1923, Henry Binkley was paid $45 to raise the church and change its direction. For the second time, the whole building was moved. That summer, the church received its brick facing and people became more interested in the "little house of worship."

January 20, 1924, the Palestine Church was dedicated. The church was without a Pastor but there were three preachers in attendance. Three services were held. While J. W. Keefer was speaking, several hooded Ku Klux Klan members entered the building, donated $200 to the church and disappeared.

The membership continued to grow over the years. In June 1935, 180 people attended services.

Up to 1951, the cemetery and church were closely tied together. At that time, the cemetery incorporated with $361.63 in the treasurer's hands. Also during that year, the first missionary, Robert Munn, was taken on. Munn and his wife went under the European Bible Mission but resigned their affiliation in 1976 because of policy changes within the mission. They where taken on for $24 per month and were still supported by the church in 1980.

A significant change occurred in 1953 when the church broke away from the Disciples of Christ and Unified Promotion and became an independent church, deciding to spend money for spiritual rather than social gospel.

In May 1971, the church was once again without a pastor. Spiritual fervor was low and the church narrowly escaped closing its doors again.

Another major change came in 1976, when the church became the Palestine Independent Christian Church. The church's constitution was revised in 1980 to pursue incorporation. However, it was not until 1988 that the church gained this status and the name was changed once again. This time the church was called the Palestine Bible Church, the name it carries today.

The entire church was painted in 1990. In 1991, bookshelves were added to house the churches growing library of Christian literature. The existing main entrance was completely replaced with double steel doors in 1992 and three ceiling fans were installed in 1994.

Improvements continued this spring with the completion of two new rooms in the southwest corner of the sanctuary. One room serves as a coat room, while the other houses an incinolet electric toilet, the best option available since the presence of the adjacent cemetery would not allow for construction of a typical sewage disposal system. The construction addressed a long-standing need for indoor restroom facilities.

During the past few years, many members of the church have passed away or moved, leaving the church with a very small congregation. Approximately 20 people attend on an average Sunday.

Currently, only Sunday morning services are held at the Palestine Bible Church. Sunday school begins at 9:30 with the worship service from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Visitors are always welcome at this little country church by the side of the road. It is an independent, non-denominational, fundamental church that believes the Bible is the only standard of faith and practice for those who believe in Jesus Christ and for his church. For more information about the Palestine Bible Church, contact Pastor David Callighan.

Warsaw Times Union Sat. Aug. 16, 1997

Back to YesterYear in Print