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story.lead_photo.caption The Central Methodist Episcopal Church South stood on West Cherry Street next to the railroad tracks. The building later served as a livery and a machine shop. Central United Methodist Church in Rogers, the descendant of that Methodist Espicopal Church, recently marked 136 years of worship and service.

"I'm there every Sunday. I love being part of Central."

Rogers Mayor Greg Hines also brings his children to church on those Sundays. His 14- and 16-year-olds mark the fifth generation in his family to attend Central United Methodist Church in Rogers.

The Rev. Dawn Spragg, the church's pastor of evangelism and connections, joined the church with her family 20 years ago, and they remained connected as she attended seminary.

Russell Riggs' association with the church began in 1934, when his parents had him baptized as an infant.

"All my family have been Methodist," Riggs said. "My mother was in the choir from Day 1, and my aunt was superintendent of the school of education.

"You live long enough and you get to be the oldest member of the church," he quipped.

OLD AND NEW

Last week, the 1,400-plus members of Central celebrated the church's 136th anniversary and also marked 20 years in its "new" building on New Hope Road.

Member George Rhoads supplied a brief history:

In December 1881, a group a Methodist met together in (or near) Rogers. An actual church was not formed until early 1882. Therefore, Central is 136 years old if you use the 1881 date, or 135 years old if you use the 1882 date. I started attending Central in 1981, which was the centennial celebration of the City of Rogers, and Central celebrated its own centennial as being the same as Rogers. The senior pastor in 1981 was Wayne Clark, and he grew a beard in honor of the centennial. Wayne is now retired and lives at Jonesboro.

Methodist pastors in the 1800s rode a circuit. They would visit each congregation at least once a calendar quarter, have a meeting of the whole congregation and do baptisms and serve communion (Lord's Supper). Only ordained pastors could administer these two sacraments. During the time when the ordained pastor was not present, there were usually lay preachers, who could preach, but not do baptisms or communion. All Methodist congregations at that time were divided up into classes of 12 to 20 persons each, and the classes met at least weekly, and were led by a lay person called a class leader.

Central was organized as Central Methodist Episcopal Church-South. The Southern church had split from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845 over the issue of slavery. Rogers also had a "North" church. It was First Methodist Episcopal Church. Central was always the larger of the two congregations. In 1908, Central built its church building at Elm and Third Streets. First church had a similar looking but smaller church building at Chestnut and Second (where Downtown Church of Christ is now located). In the 1930s, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church-South started discussions of merging, which occurred in 1939. However, in Rogers, Central Methodist Episcopal Church-South and First Methodist Episcopal Church merged in 1936, prior to the merger of the national organizations. The First congregation moved in with the Central congregation in Central's larger facility. The name became Central Methodist Church. In 1968, when The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church (the German Methodist who no longer spoke German) merged, Central became Central United Methodist Church, which it remains today.

When Central voted to move to New Hope and 26th, a portion of the congregation did not want to move. Those folks formed Downtown United Methodist Church (later renamed First United Methodist Church). They purchased the downtown building at Elm and Third from Central United Methodist Church.

FORGOTTEN MEMORIES

Riggs recalled one Sunday -- only one -- when church services were canceled. "That afternoon, we all went down to see why church was called off," he said.

When Riggs was about 4 years old, part of the sanctuary burned, including the bell tower, which First United Methodist Church has restored to near original appearance, he said.

"The fire department was across the street, so they just pulled out their hoses and came over and put the fire out," Riggs said. But this left the building with significant fire and water damage.

"The weather turned horribly cold," Riggs continued. "The water in front of the altar froze. Three or four of us skated on the ice in front of the altar. It had never been done before, and has never been done again."

Hines said he might remember some boys who climbed up in that bell tower with straws to throw down spit wads on the unsuspecting walking by the church.

Bonnie Grimes, who joined the church with her husband and family in 1955, said Sunday school was the most important part to her. The "Willing Workers" numbered as many as 100 at one point, she said.

"We were all young couples who were involved in everything in the church," Grimes recalled. "We were very willing to work."

Today, about 25 members continue to meet weekly for Bible study, whether it be the minister's sermon series, a whole-church study or the current study of the Apostle Paul.

The church holds many memories for Hines, from lock-ins during his teens, to facilitating a Sunday school class for couples in his generation, to the baptism of his two children, to eulogizing his grandparents, who now lie in the church's columbarium.

"Some of my memories revolve around children and youth filling the building with laughter as they celebrated God's love in their lives," Spragg said. "The mission trips that our adults, youth and children participate in also are great memories. Listening to people's stories of transformation as they experience God's presence in new ways is amazing. We have participated in mission opportunities right here in our community and as far away as Costa Rica.

"I also love that each year we give our entire Christmas Eve offering to service organizations."

WORD

When asked to describe the church, members repeated the same words: loving, welcoming,

"We make a very intentional effort because we understand folks have a lot of choices for a church home," Hines said, listing greeter services to help visitors find their way around the campus on Sunday mornings.

Riggs sees it in the ongoing mission efforts locally, nationally and internationally, as well as the child care center and Mothers' Day Out programs.

"I just think we have a very strong network of people who support and pay attention and look out for one another, whether their needs are physical, spiritual or emotional," Grimes said.

Riggs agreed, offering the example of providing a member who lives near the lake a ride to the hospital for an early morning surgery.

Spragg, however, chose "connection."

"It is part of our mission statement -- 'Connecting people to Christ' -- but it is also a word that we live by as we connect to each other as a family of believers by learning and worshipping together.

NAN Religion on 08/19/2017

Print Headline: Rogers church celebrates 136 years, 20 in building

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