Archive for Thursday, April 28, 2005

Country church to expand

Hesper Friends plan new community room

April 28, 2005

Hesper Friends Church is about to undergo a change bigger than any other in its 143-year history.

Pastor Charles Neifert hopes the improvements to the building and better roads leading to the church will attract Eudora residents and others to come and check out the rural Quaker church.

"We hope more people might come out and take a look," he said.

The 3,600 square foot expansion on the east side of the church will create new classrooms, restrooms and a community room for dinners or other group occasions. A new entrance will also be constructed to make the building handicap accessible and to accommodate some of the church's older members.

A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for 11:45 a.m. May 15 at the church, 2355 N. 1100 Road, following regular Sunday services.

The church has hired Morton Building for the expansion project.

Neifert said the old gravel road that churchgoers have traveled for years will be chipped and sealed soon, making driving to the church more convenient.

The expansion to the church will be financed by the sale of 80 acres of land given to the church by the late Charles Hill, and by funds willed to the church by the late Ramona Stanley Brecheisen.

It's not the first time the church, originally built by Quaker settlers in the 1800s, has had an expansion. The building was lifted to add a basement in the 1950s and in the mid-1970s a new front and entrance were constructed on the north side of the church. But the planned expansion will be the largest the church has had.

Neifert said the congregation still planned to meet for Sunday services at the church during construction.

Sunday school is taught at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday, followed by worship at 10:30 a.m.

Neifert said Hesper Friends Church was an evangelical church with a non-liturgical manner of worship, meaning they do not follow a set form of religious worship.

While some Friends churches follow no program for their Sunday meetings, Hesper Friends services include a music ministry of traditional hymns and contemporary choruses, a sermon from the pastor, and a traditional Quaker time of quiet worship, prayer and sharing.

"We do offer a time where I sit down and give people a time to sit in silence and reflect, and hear what God has to say to them," Neifert said.

"And we have wonderful music," said lifetime Hesper Friends member Jean Gabriel. "We have a wonderful organist and a wonderful pianist and we sing good songs. Loud."

Hesper Friends do not practice any outward sacraments, such as communion or water baptism, Neifert said. Their beliefs are based on personal relationships with God rather than following a set order of worship.

"I think there's a good spirit of worship here," Neifert said.

He said the church is a "missions-minded" church, with Friends members sharing their message all over the world.

"We're just telling the good news," he said. "We emphasize a personal relationship with God, who is a loving father. We're all here to serve God and to use the talents and strengths that he gives us to strengthen the church."

A little history

According to the published history of the church, the first Quaker immigrants came to the area once known as Hesper in 1858. They had strong opinions about slavery and were actively opposed to it.

In 1862, under the supervision of the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends, the group of Quakers was given preparative meeting status under the name of Springfield. A small meeting house was built, establishing a Quaker presence in the community of Hesper.

In the early days of the Hesper Friends Church, members met in quietness and worshiped with men on one side of the meeting house and the women and children on the other side.

According to the church's history, a large portion of the meetings were held in silent worship until someone was moved to testify, preach or pray, and there were no paid pastors.

In 1882 construction was completed on a new meeting house at a total cost of $1,550. The building featured a partition down the middle to divide the men's and women's meetings.

The group's name was changed from Springfield to Hesper, to correspond with the nearby village of Hesper in 1883.

Hesper Academy, a high school for area youth, opened in the fall of 1884 under the direction of the church. The academy was open until 1914 after the establishment of secular public schools in the area.

Controversy arose during the 1880s when conservative and progressive Quakers began to have different opinions on singing in services, holding evangelistic meetings, having ministers serve as pastors and holding men's and women's meetings together. The Hesper Monthly Meeting never split, and eventually the progressive ideals were adopted.

The first evangelist paid for his work was Alvin George, who was given $23 for a meeting that lasted two weeks in 1894. In 1899 William E. Mills became the first minister to serve in the church as a pastor, and was paid $35.45 for the year.

Hesper's first female pastor was Eusebia S. Couch, who filled the vacancy left by Mills in 1900.

In 1901, to bring unity among Friends churches in America, a document called the "Faith and Practice" or "Book of Discipline" was adopted by the Five Years Meeting of Friends, which encompassed the smaller organizations of Friends churches throughout the country.

Today, Hesper Friends churchgoers are still proud of their little church in the country. Neifert said there were about 40 regular members, and that he hoped improvements to the meeting house and the surrounding area would encourage more people to visit.

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