Farrar UMC celebrates 125 year legacy; commits to caring future

September 01, 2014

Click on the name to hear the conversations with Harold Long, Norm McCoy, Shonda Hay, T J Craig, and Warren Nielsen

Click to see images from the worship service and celebration

By Arthur McClanahan*

Farrar United Methodist Church is a faith community with a rich heritage and a solid commitment to the future.  Built on a faith that focused on others it continues its caring outreach to the community…and beyond!

Nearly 250 people filled the sanctuary of the church on Sunday, August 24, to celebrate its 125 legacy.  The congregation was joined by Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble and Mrs. Trimble, former clergy and spouses, other Conference staff, and friends from the community.  In once voice they declared, “We are transformed into God’s family by God’s Spirit…this congregations has been a vehicle of God’s grace shining God’s marvelous light across the years…[this is] a place for growing in relationship with the Lord, a place for living, loving, and forgiving in the Spirit of Christ…we give thanks for the together ness we feel with one another, sharing in all of life’s joys and sorrows, its victories and defeats…we give thanks for the body of Christ that we are today and for what God will inspire us to become tomorrow…” 

Farrar UMC had its beginnings in the 1880’s.  Asa Turner, born in Denmark, Iowa, the son of a Congregationalist minister, was “active in the Underground Railroad and helped many slaves reach their freedom,” according to Norm McCoy.  He led a “regiment of freed slaves” during the Civil War, following his release from captivity by the Confederate Army after the Battle of Shiloh.  According to the brochure McCoy prepared for the celebration Turner settled “a mile south of Farrar…[becoming] ‘one of  Iowa’s best known pioneers’ for his involvement in the farming community, the new state of Iowa, and the agricultural college in Ames.  He was one of the chief benefactors of the Piney Woods School for Blacks in Braxton, Mississippi.  He helped organize the first school district in the area, the first Sunday School (in a one-room schoolhouse), the first Congregational Church, and the first Methodist Church.”  And perhaps most significantly, “he was instrumental in teaching the Scriptures to the youth of the community.”

That commitment to “the youth of the community” is one that continues and is seen as the key to the future.  T. J. Craig, one of the day’s volunteers, who drove a golf cart taking people back and forth to the parking across the way from the church, said,  “Getting young people involved in our church and passing that on to the next generations” is his hope for “making it to 150, 175, and 200.”  The hope, for Harold Long, the eldest male member of the congregation, is “getting more young people involved…that’s the way to do it; the youth are the church.”  Warren Nielsen, whose commitment includes almost singlehandedly supervising and installing the elevator lift, believes “the future of our church is young people.”  Shonda Hay, a life-long member of the church, whose “green thumb” created the flower gardens in front of the entrance, observed, “The people of the church are so supportive of children…they love everything that they do at the church.  They would give anything for the kids, figure out a way to make it happen!”

Bishop Julius Calvin Trimble offered the sermon for the celebration, something T. J. Craig said “is very big.  A lot of people might not have had the opportunity to hear him speak, and now we’ve had an opportunity to hear him speak and preach.”  In his sermon Bishop Trimble asked, “Who needs the church?”    As he travels across Iowa the Bishop said he discovers that “people need the Lord.”  “We need a well that will never run dry,” he said, “a doctor in the sick room, comfort when we mourn, a blanket when we are cold, a word when we are weary, a friend who will not leave us…I encourage you to get the church to the people!”

According to one child of the church, “that’s pretty much what we do”…get the church to the people.  According to Warren Nielsen a significant shift in that church-community connection happened “four years ago.  We had a little girl who was in a terrible accident.  We needed to raise funds to help the family.  Less than a year later we had a young man who had a terrible stroke…and we decided to help the family…we [became] a more congealed group of people.”

The mission of Farrar UMC was imprinted on the back of the anniversary tee-shirts: “inspire, love, cultivate, and grow.”  Norm McCoy, the church’s organist, noted, “Several years ago we had a serious car accident in the community and then a fellow in the community had a stroke…that started this church coalescing to become a real force in the community…ever since then we’ve been a group of people working together better.”  Shonda Hay, who was “born and raised in this church…got married in this church” believes that they congregation is unique because “it comes together as a community.  If someone’s not feeling good we work to get them to feel better…it’s a real community of people who care!”

For Warren Nielsen, the care for the community translates into personal action, something he said is consistent across the congregation as they work together “to make an inviting place here.”  “There were claims that we weren’t denying anybody the use of our church,” he said, “but in reality we were.”  He was motivated to guide and do the lift project because there “was a need.  A well-respected man in our church passed away.  A lot of people from our community came to the service.  We had to carry the wheel chairs downstairs.  We just decided that it was time to make ourselves handicapped-accessible.”

Marking 125 years, its quasquicentennial, the Farrar United Methodist Church community remembered its founders – Asa and Fanny Turner – and their core values of repentance, faith, confession and belief in the resurrection.  They prayed, “May that which was of stone,” including the current brick church building, constructed in 1925, “be now transformed into life.”  From the “serenity garden” by the entrance steps, a place where Shonda Hay “likes to work” because hands-on caring there “helps me to think,” to the “Church on Church” group within the congregation that has a “prayer at the beginning of our meeting…that we can fulfill the ‘Great Commission,” according to Warren Nielsen, Farrar UMC is moving into the future, getting the “church to the people,” something that Bishop Trimble finds “encouraging!”

Shonda Hay summed it up: “We have high hopes that the church will stay around.  We have a good feeling for the church!”

*Dr. Arthur McClanahan is Director of Communications for the Iowa Conference, The United Methodist Church