Manchester United Methodist Church observes 175th anniversary

Daniel A. Marsh Contributing Writer Published November 11, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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Daniel A. Marsha / Contributing Photographer

Rodney Grant holds Riley Phillips outside Manchester United Methodist Church. The Manchester UMC congregation observed the church’s 175th anniversary on Nov. 4.

Toby Daniell gathered a handful of youngsters together for a special Children’s Church message involving baseball cards and a few items pulled from his refrigerator.

The cards, he said, had gained value over time, but the sour cream, milk and an 18-year-old Coke he distributed among the children were no longer any good — probably.

“How do you know when sour cream’s gone bad?” he asked, to laughter from the congregation.

Manchester United Methodist Church, he said, has aged as well as the choice wine spoken of by Jesus in John 2:7. The church celebrated its 175th anniversary with a special service and potluck on Nov. 4.

“It means a lot to me spiritually,”

Kendall Hunter said of the church. “I’ve been a member all my life. I joined the church at an early age. I was baptized here. Two of my children were married here. My mother used to put a pallet under this bench, and when we had church at night, I would sleep on it. I guess it kept me quiet or out of the way. That is my earliest memory.”

The church is the center of the small farming community’s life, and Hunter, born in 1935, has seen much of the history of both.

“A lot of homes didn’t have electricity until 1947, when rural electrification came in,” he said. “Most people had small farms — there weren’t many jobs — and we were a close-knit community. Just about everybody owned 40 acres, and there were a couple of little stores over in Dalark that sold gasoline and groceries. A lot of people got jobs or went to school and moved away, and we’re smaller now. I’d say [the congregation is] half as large as we once were.”

Founded in 1837, Manchester UMC was one of the first Methodist churches established in southwest Arkansas. Preaching was held in homes until a log structure was built in 1844. Mattie Bullock McCaskill donated the land on which the western portion of the church was built in 1908-1909. In 1938, a new sanctuary was built, and the old section of the church was converted into classrooms. The church marker was erected in 1968, and in 1974, a fellowship hall was built. Manchester UMC now has 57 members.

The Rev. R.W. Trieschmann was church pastor from 1977-1987. His wife, Carolyn, attended last week’s celebration.

“I’ve been blessed,” she said. “Bob and I came here in 1976. We were both raised in Little Rock and had never lived in the country. Today, I’m 84 years old and taking care of nearly 3 acres myself.”

She said that in 1976, her husband was asked by the district superintendent to serve both the Wesley Foundation in Arkadelphia and the Manchester church. Bob Trieschmann was also a trainer for the Henderson State University Reddies under Coach Ralph “Sporty” Carpenter.

She and her husband took congregation members on trips in “an old school bus Bob had,” she said. “One year, we even went to the Grand Ole Opry. Bob was big on going places. The ladies and I all had a ball on our Nashville trip — I dressed as Dolly Parton.”

The church formed “a family I recognized I had not had as a child,” Carolyn said. “We served [the church] 11 years, built our home and enjoyed ‘a little bit of heaven,’ as Bob’s mother named it.”

Marsha Haltom said she and her husband, John, have been members of the church since they married in 1970.

“He didn’t want to be a Baptist, so I became a Methodist,” she said. “He grew up here, but I belonged to the Second Baptist Church in Arkadelphia. That’s where we married.”

She said the Manchester UMC congregation has always been like family to her.

“Everybody is very close. It is a special bond that we all have,” she said.

She said that bond, as well as the church’s moral values, were valuable in bringing up her daughters. Manchester’s low-tech worship service is an added appeal.

“I love church in town, but it doesn’t have the same atmosphere,” Haltom said. “We still use our books. We don’t have a phone here. You can’t use a cellphone here.”

Ima Rainwater said she and her late husband, Ralph, had been Manchester residents for a while before they began attending the church in June 1986. Ralph retired that year and began farming on their 100 acres. He died in February 2010.

“I’m one of the oldest members of the church,” Rainwater said. “One of the good things is that we have a mix of young and old. Most country churches, you just have older people, but our kids participate. They take up the offering, lead the singing, help with the Lord’s Supper. That’s one of the most pleasant experiences of our church, a really good group of kids.”

Children are important to the church, as evidenced by the growth measurements marked on the frame of a classroom door, and Rainwater and Hunter both said adults as well as kids, love celebrating the holidays at church.

“My favorite time is Easter,” Rainwater said. “One Easter — in 1987 or 1988 — so many people came home [to visit the church] that we had to put chairs in the aisle. That doesn’t happen so much anymore, that we get so many people, but that was still a special experience.”

Hunter said his favorite is the Christmas Eve program.

“A lot of people come back home for that one. Our kids put on the program, and it’s all about the birth of Jesus. After that, we have a big tree, and Santa Claus comes. Everybody looks forward to it,” Hunter said.

George Whitney is the church’s current pastor. A Hot Springs Village resident, Whitney is in his fourth year at Manchester UMC.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience,” Whitney said. A Nebraska native, Whitney left the insurance business when he heard the call to preach. “I couldn’t run from it any longer, so I went to seminary in St. Louis.”

He said that when a church reaches a big milestone, it is a time to look forward as well as reflect.

“It’s good to celebrate those years,” he said, “but it’s also important to look forward and ask, ‘Where are we going? Will we continue to be as faithful as we have been?’”

He reiterated the importance of young people.

“We have a number of youth, and they do a good job of being mentors and setting an example. We’ve also added some new members, and we’ve had several professions of faith, which is a sign of growth.”

Hunter said the church is on sound footing in terms of numbers.

“I’m on the Finance Committee — just about everybody in the church has a committee to be on — and our finances are good right now,” he said. “We are caring, and we usually respond to emergencies. If someone has a house fire or something, we usually try to help, whether they are a member or not. If we’re lacking in anything, it’s probably getting out and telling people about ourselves. We do welcome people to come, and I think they’ll feel at home if they do.”

He read aloud to the congregation several letters from former pastors congratulating the church on its 175 years. One of the letters, written by J. Wayne Edwards, recounted a humorous incident.

“Claude McCaskill used to knock the fire out of his pipe on the windowsill,” Edwards wrote. “He’d go outside and reload. One Sunday, somebody hid his pipe, and I never saw Claude upset until then. He went ballistic, and we all had a good laugh. We never found out who hid that pipe, but I wouldn’t put it past Kendall Hunter.”

The congregation laughed.

“I must have made an impression on Brother Edwards,” Hunter said.

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