Bidding Farewell To A 171-Year-Old Friend
By Ray Balogh
MILFORD — On Sunday, June 27, parishioners bid a final adieu to Milford United Methodist Church, the building and spiritual family.
The declaration of purpose printed in the service’s bulletin encapsulated the bittersweet moment:
“The time has come for this congregation of Christ’s holy church, under God’s leadership, to disband and take leave of this building.
“It has been consecrated for the ministry of God’s holy word and sacraments. It has provided refuge and comfort for God’s people. It has served well our holy faith.
“It is fitting, therefore, that we should take our leave of this consecrated house, lifting up our hearts in thanksgiving for this common store of memories.”
Becky Alles was baptized as an infant and grew up in the church. “When I was baptized, all the other members of the church pledged to help raise me in the faith,” she said.
“My favorite memories are as a teenager in youth group, going to church camp at Epworth Forest.
“The people who attended my graduation party were the adults from the church, my mentors.
“I was a member here until I went to college. I was away for 20 years and moved back in 1994 and got involved with the children’s choir and as a leader in youth group,” said Alles, who most recently served as administrative board chair and treasurer.
Dean Cousins was a Milford churchgoer for 50 years and served as “church treasurer for many years and chairman of the trustees forever.”
“What I will miss most is our church family. We used to have a lot of church family activities, like swimming parties at our house for the youth group and the masterpiece auction every fall, where everyone brought their own masterpiece, like woodworking, canned food or arts and crafts. Two favorites were pecan pie and beef jerky.”
Cousins said the “greatest outreach we had was the preschool,” which ran from 1989 to 2020.
“But like many small churches, the congregation just aged. Years ago we had 80 members and when we closed, the attendance was 25.”
Dan Brown, 70, has been a member since he was 13. “I have a lot of favorite memories,” he said.
“As a kid, I was in the youth group and went to church camp. My mom and dad went to the church, and my children and grandchildren went to Sunday school and church there. It was just a big part of our family experience.”
Brown served as a lay leader and Sunday school teacher “for quite a few years.” He remembers his Sunday school teacher, Leon Newman. “He’s still around and when I see him, we still talk about that experience.”
According to Alles, “everything reverts back to the Indiana United Methodist Church Conference, so the property is theirs to take care of now.” No plans have been announced for the church building and grounds.
The church started in 1850, first meeting in homes and stores. On July 11, 1866, the parcel of land was deeded to the church, which was “always to be kept open, free for all orthodox Christian denominations when not in use by Methodist Episcopal Church Milford and never sold for any other purpose,” according to the church’s archives.
The first structure, measuring 40 feet by 60 feet, was built circa 1866 for $3,000. A parsonage south of the church was built in 1880. Three major revivals were held on the property between 1879 and 1886.
A second structure was erected on the first church’s foundation and was dedicated on July 22, 1900.
That church building was destroyed by a fire on Saturday, May 8, 1920, with only the pulpit Bible surviving intact.
Barely 24 hours later the intrepid and determined church board passed a resolution to rebuild.
The next Sunday the congregation met in the Milford High School auditorium for Sunday school and worship services.
On Sept. 26, 1920, they accepted the invitation to meet at the Christian Church in Milford, and then met for a year in the opera house on South Main Street.
Construction on the new church began Sept. 13, 1921, and the cornerstone encasing a time capsule was laid on Oct. 29 of that year, with about 500 people attending the ceremony.
The new church, complete with opera seats instead of pews, was dedicated on Sept. 24, 1922. Construction cost $23,307, and all funds required to cover the price were donated or pledged that day.
The church sponsored two ladies’ groups before 1900, Women’s Home Missionary Society and Ladies Aid Society. The two organizations united in the 1940s as Women’s Society of Christian Service and changed their name in 1971 to United Methodist Women.
Through the decades they made many monetary donations and raised money through numerous chicken dinners, bazaars and rummage and bake sales.
The church started a countywide youth group in the 1890s or earlier. It was known as The Epworth League and changed its name in the 1940s to Methodist Youth Fellowship. The group helped with the annual ice cream social and Christmas caroling.