Going to Church

This page was created July 25, 2004

In the early days of the county upon the arrival and settlement of groups of people in an area; the church was most often one of the first items founded and created by the local families.

Of course, these were not churches as we know them today. Most often they were formed of a central meeting place in the community such as someone's home. Much later on land would be given or purchased and the actual church building would be built.

Although I am certain that many were; this immediate church formation wasn't always due to the devoutness of the people. Church and its related activities also served other purposes for the pioneering families.These purposes were as varied as the churches and communities themselves.

Fellowship/worship with other like individuals

A sense of belonging for those far from home and family

Deep rooted faith of the founding fathers

Community activity center

The last entry above might sound a bit "off", but in reality much of the time, church related gatherings were the only acceptable form of entertainment for many persons. No doubt they were a devout people, but they were human all the same and worked hard and needed that occassional fellowship.

For the many pioneer families who never seem "quite settled", joining the local church gave them a sense of "home". They could enjoy fellowship with others who held similar beliefs and lifestyles.Early churches were a bit more structured or perhaps the word is conformed. If a family were members of the Congregational Church in Pennsylvania, they could be pretty assured that services would be pretty much the same in Indiana or Iowa. With the variety of things always unsettled in the pioneering family's life, this gave them stability.

The minister was someone the family counted on to be there for them in counseling, etc. He was a prominent member of most families.Unfortunately many ministers didn't stay with the church very long. They were known as missionaries and frequently traveled further west to settle/create churches in new areas.

It was quite common for families to carry "a letter" with them in their travels. This served as a form of introduction to the church in the new area.

Pioneering families were not given the "option" of attending church as we have today. They were judged and many times, judged harshly on their church attendance and frequency of it. Going to church was something that was "simply done".

Churches quite frequently determined rather precisely just how people would live their daily lives; not just while in the church service.People could and did get removed from the church roster for what we would feel were "trivial offenses". Included in these could be:

Speaking harshly (not profane, just harsh)

Missing a church meeting

Laboring on the Sabbath

Telling a falsehood

Dressing inappropriately (in colors)

Playing, listening to music

Some churches were rather strict and depending on the preacher, the considered offenses could vary from week to week.

The company you kept

Variety of Churches and Their Activities

In the early years of a township, it was common to have a small town about every 5-6 miles, with limited transportation a church was normally found in each area. The different types were dictated by the origins of the persons residing there.

The most common were the Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Christian and of course with the high content in the Owen County area of Germans; the Lutheran church.

Some of these churches adhered to the strict guidelines set forth by the Associations governing the churches such as the White River Baptist Association.

In addition to the weekly meetings and church fellowship, most people could count on the church for singings, picnics, homecomings and fund raising dinners.

As time went on; Ladies Committees were formed that raised various monies for things in the community such as: a family who had lost everything, or a new family in the area; most anything that was deemed needed could well be turned into an entertainment as well. Times were that these organizations raised money with a pie supper for a new minister with several children to care for- the pie supper in itself being a source of "breaking up the time" between a long winter and spring.

All of these activities were times to visit with people that most of the time were so busy getting their homesteads productive that socializing wasn't frequent.

Many of these functions were educational as well as enjoyable. Women traded recipes, patterns for clothing, house keeping tips. Men could generally count on gathering with other men in discussions on new farm machinery and methods as well as perhaps putting together the next "threshing ring" in the area.

Although pride was considered a sin in many churches, I assume that many times members were proud of a new dress or a fine horse and buggy.


  • We went to church every Sunday. It wasn't whether you wanted to go, it was the rule.

  • I remember times that we went in a bob sled- you know, we had no snow plows back then.

  • We went to a little church about a mile and a half from home. Most times we walked.

  • In the summertime, we would carry our shoes as we walked till the church came into view.

  • The men sat on one side of the church and the women on the other. Both of the had what they called the "Amen Corner".

  • Our preacher drove a white horse and buggy many miles to our church- he received $6.00 every Sunday.

  • I remember, our church was a one room building with two coal stoves, one on each side.

  • We only got to go to church once a month when the preacher would come through. On the other Sundays, we only had Sunday School.

  • I was Lutheran and had confirmation classes- we had to learn Swedish as we had it in our church work.

  • In our German Reformed Church, the minister would preach in a German service in the morning and in the evening he would preach in English.

  • Grandpa was a Quaker; he once took my father to church, but dad was asked to leave when they found out he had fought in WWI and had been bearing arms.

  • Our church was our community center outside of school. I remember during the first war, we all gathered to make things for the soldiers.

  • In my day, after Sunday church was the time for visiting among the neighbors.


    Debbie Jennings

    Website Coordinator