ST. JOSEPH, Missouri — The Bethany Christian Church celebrates its 150-year anniversary this month.
The seeds for this small country church, located on a gravel road off State Route NN in Clinton County, were planted in 1860 when a small group of Disciples of Christ members came together and formed a congregation. They didn’t have a church building until 1869, when the more than 80 members built a structure on 2 acres of land from a nearby farmer.
The congregation met and dedicated their building during Christmas week of 1869. Elder J.A. Meng was acting preacher at the time.
Today, the church has around 60 members with 35 attending on a regular basis, said the Rev. Mike McMurtrey. The spirit is still strong in the church, he said.
“The people here, they love with open arms. They’re very generous and kind. They don’t hold back and it makes it an enjoyable place to worship,” McMurtrey said.
McMurtrey, a Plattsburg High School math teacher, took over as pastor in 2015 at the urging of friends.
They said, ‘You know, I think you might be the guy for our needs,’ so I put my name in the hat, went through the process. The Lord called me and I have been here since then,” he said.
Mary Williams grew up in the church. The 81-year-old woman was baptized there at age 14 as Mary Alice Hickman. Hickman married Larry Williams, also a member of the church, there in 1955. Both are still active members.
“I’ve gone to church here all my life,” Williams said. “The church was really the center of my life. My mom and dad weren’t great social people. The church was everything to us.”
In April 1907, the original Bethany church building was torn down. It was rebuilt that same year at a cost of $4,000.
Early photos show the church having two entrances — one for men and one for women. The first meeting in the new (and current) building was in February 1908. In 1938, the front part of the church was remodeled and combined to make only one entrance.
For a number of years during the 1940s the church sat in disrepair, empty and unused. The members then attended services at nearby Lebanon church and later Spring Hill School. The Bethany church was repaired and reopened in 1952.
Williams said in the early days of the church there were more young people. The sanctuary last week was decorated in an African safari theme for youth summer Bible school.
“The church has changed as our children grew up in the community. There used to be a large group, then the Korean War came up and took some of the younger people, the boys. They grew up and graduated and moved away for work,” Williams said.
She remembered a different type of community that surrounded the church years ago. It was a farming community where people lived off the land, she said.
Today, there are more elaborate homes and people go to work at jobs out of town and their children go to school in Plattsburg, Stewartsville or St. Joseph, she said.
“The women didn’t work in those days like they do now and the community changed and the church changed along with it,” Williams said.
The Bethany Christian Church will celebrate its 150th anniversary beginning with a church service at 11 am Sunday, Aug. 25. Lunch will be provided and a short program will follow at 2 p.m.