An architectural gem celebrates its 100th birthday

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 Photos courtesy of the Groveport Heritage Museum
 Pictured here is the Groveport United Methodist Church as it looked just after its completion in 1908. Note how the neighborhood around the church, located at Main and College streets, has changed.
 
 Jethro Denton, chair of the building committee, is shown here holding a spade (center left) at the ground breaking ceremony for the church in 1907.
 
 The church’s signature arched stained glass windows start to take shape during construction of the church in 1907.

The Groveport United Methodist Church has stood watch over the community for 100 years.

In recognition of this, its congregation will celebrate the building’s centennial at a special church service April 13 at 10:30 a.m. The featured speaker at the event will be Bishop Bruce Ough, the bishop of the West Ohio Annual Conference, who is responsible for the oversight of more than 1,000 churches.

"It’s an honor to have him here," said Groveport United Methodist Church Pastor Jim Meredith.

Meredith added that the celebration will also include former pastors who served at the church. There will also be a special meal following the church service.

"This is obviously a very historic church," said Meredith. "Someone once told me that this church and Groveport Town Hall stand like beautiful bookends on this stretch of Main Street."

Meredith said his favorite part of the church are the stained glass windows, especially as they brighten on sunny days. He said the windows also warm the building.

"On a sunny morning, if you stand just a few inches away from the east window, you can feel the warmth. It’s like a solar heating panel," said Meredith.

Area Methodist history

On the Ohio frontier it was the Methodists who made the biggest strides in bringing faith to the hinterlands, originally meeting in homes in Madison Township as early as 1804.

Hopewell Methodist Church, just south of Groveport and Asbury Methodist Church to the north, were the first congregations to organize in the area. Services were led by circuit riding preachers who were often self taught and rose from the ranks of the pioneer culture. Congregations accepted these preachers because they shared  common roots and values.

The Methodists built the first church in Groveport in 1836, a small brick structure which stood at the corner of Main and College streets until 1851 when a much larger brick structure was erected.

That church served the community until 1908 when it was torn down brick by brick to make way for a new church. This new church, which still stands today and is celebrating its 100th birthday, rose from the same site as the previous two churches.

Building the church

According to a church history put together by Nancy Myers, a committee, chaired by Jethro Denton, was formed in 1906 to look into constructing a new church as the congregation had outgrown its existing building. Additionally, by 1906 the 1851 church was worn out as its walls were considered unsafe.

Local contractor Charles "Scout" Rarey bid $25,000 and was awarded the contract to build the church. Rarey quit his job as clerk in the Franklin County Juvenile Court so he devote all of this time to the project.

Rarey and his crew salvaged some brick and timbers from the 1851 church that could be used on the new church’s interior.

Workers laid the cornerstone on June 10, 1907 and worked progressed until the church was completed and dedicated with a ceremony on April 12, 1908. The final cost of the church came in at $16,416.

"I looked in my notes and the biggest surprise to me was that when the dedication day on April 12, 1908 was over, the church building was paid for in contributions and pledges," said church historian Beth Stevenson. "They were short $5,694 but by the end of the day, $6,509 had been subscribed."

Architecture

The Groveport United Methodist Church is noted for its unique architecture which features cranberry red brick (which was made at the Claycraft Brick Plant that once operated in Groveport), two different kinds of limestone, fan shaped arched stained glass windows, and slate roof put on by Groveport’s Thomas Redman. In the bell tower rings the bell purchased for the church by the internationally famous 19th century horse trainer John S. Rarey of Groveport. This bell, cast in England, originally was in the 1851 building.


The future

Meredith said he hopes the church will continue to serve and strengthen a sense of community in Groveport.

"Society is changing a lot," observed Meredith. "Churches always used to be unlocked and most everyone belonged to a church. Now there’s a greater percentage of people who have no active connection to a local church. It’s up to us to discover what forms the church should take in a given age."

He said the church is striving to stay relevant by working with community outreach programs to help those in need.

"Even though our building is old, it is identifiable, which helps us in our initiatives to reach out to the community," said Meredith. "We hope our church is a headquarters for reaching out."

Thinking about the century old church structure Meredith added, "I’d like to see this building last another 100 years."

Timeline

•1836 – Groveport United Methodist Church (GUMC) forms and a one story brick building is built on land donated by William Rarey on the northeast corner of Main and College streets.

•1851 – A new 50 by 70 foot brick church is built on the same site as the original church. The bricks were made on a lot just west of the church.

•1906 – The 1851 church is determined to be unsafe structurally.

•1908 – The existing church is dedicated replacing the 1851 structure on the same site.

•1958 – The education wing at the rear of the church is dedicated.

•2002 – A fire occurs in the second floor choir room causing extensive smoke damage.

•2004 – A capital campaign is launched to upgrade the church.

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