SAVING A CHURCH
- Dick Mason
- The Observer
Thomas Edison received a patent for the phonograph in 1878, the year Imbler's old Methodist Church building was constructed.
Today phonographs and the vinyl records they play are museum pieces. Imbler's old Methodist Church building, however, like an old record rediscovered by a new generation, is rebounding.
Significant renovations are occurring at the church, sometimes at a 78 rpm pace thanks to the Union County Historical Society. The local history group is conducting the restoration project with community help.
"It is just a joy to see how it is all coming together,'' said Joyce Grove, head of a Union County Historical Society committee in charge of the church's restoration.
The historical society is making sure that all restoration work is in tune with the building's past.
"We are trying to save it. We are not going to modernize it,'' said Sandra Boren of La Grande, the historical society's secretary.
The church was donated to the historical society in 2003 by Veytha Irene Ruckman Berry, who died in 2005.
Since 2005 the Union County Historical Society has raised money from things like yards sales to funds things such as:
the painting of the church's exterior
the replacement of the church's windows
the replacement of the porch and steps on the front of the church
the purchase of five pews for the church. The pews are among eight the church has; three others were donated. These pews are believed to have been originally in the church.
locate the church's original bell in Wallowa County. The Union County Historical Society made a trade to obtain the bell and brought it back to the church.
The historical society has been assisted by a Community Stewardship Corps crew, Boy Scout Christopher Grove and many others in the community. Their efforts have added life to a building that sat unused for at least three decades and has a footloose history.
The church was situated two miles south of Imbler when it was built in 1878, according to Methodist Church records obtained by Edsel White. He is a minister at the First United Methodist Church in Vancouver, Wash. White's father was once a minister at Imbler's old church.
Methodist records indicate that the church initially served as both a Southern Methodist Church and a Campbellite Church. The Campbellites later became today's Church of Christ.
Members of the Methodist and Campbellite churches conducted services on alternate Sundays in the building until 1902. Sometime between 1902 and 1910 the building was transported to its present location at the corner of Hull Lane and Highway 82. The building was moved with a long cable on a gear-driven drum powered by one horse on a circling sweep.
Regular Sunday services were conducted at the church in Imbler until the late 1920s, according to Marie Lester of La Grande. Lester, a former Union County commissioner, grew up in Imbler. She said that visiting ministers occasionally conducted services at the church after the late 1920s.
Sunday school classes continued to be conducted regularly there until about the 1960s. Lester, who grew in Imbler in the 1920s and '30s, has vivid memories of attending Sunday school classes in the church. The building then had an organ, a wood stove and curtains that were pulled to partitioned four classroom spaces.
Lester's grandfather, Charley Cleaver, served as superintendent of the church's Sunday school program. He would get the stove burning and then ring the church's bell to draw people to Sunday school.
Cleaver first led the students, many of whom were adults, in a hymn and then pulled the curtains to partitions for the classes.
Each year Sunday school students participated in a Christmas program at the church. Someone dressed as Santa appeared at the end to give Lester and other children bags filled with nuts, hard candy, chocolate and one orange.
Oranges were then a delicacy in Imbler because they were rarely available.
"Christmas was the only time I saw oranges. An orange was something really special,'' Lester said.
James "Bus'' Hoover, a longtime Imbler resident who now lives in Elgin, recalled that the bell rang regularly on Sundays some seven decades ago.
The archives also tell of mischievous youths who sometimes rang the bell at night just to get the church's caretaker to come running to make sure everything was all right.
The church was never locked decades ago.
"That was church style in those days,'' Hoover said.
Ironically today the church is locked so that the church style of yesteryear can be preserved.
The historical society's plans call for a display area to be set up in the church. The display will contain information about the history of the church and Imbler. Few if any modern furnishings or decorations will be found in the church, Boren said.
"We want to keep it old so that people can appreciate it for it was and it can provide a history lesson.''