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Solon United Methodist Church to celebrate 175th

Celebration set for Sunday, Aug. 30
The members of the Solon United Methodist Church decided to erect a new church in 1884 at a cost of $2,600. They laid the cornerstone in June and the church was in use by September of the same year; that structure houses the current sanctuary, shown above. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– As the community of Solon prepares to celebrate its 175th year– a quartoseptcentennial, according to Wikipedia– one of Solon’s longest-standing institutions will also turn 175 years old this fall.
Solon United Methodist Church will host a 175th Homecoming Celebration Sunday, Aug. 30, to commemorate the church’s origin, history and accomplishments over the last century and three-quarters.
A tent service– formatted to mirror a service from 1910– will be held with a potluck lunch and ice cream social to follow, along with a performance by members of the Eastern Iowa Brass Band. The event will include displays of timelines and booths to highlight key components that comprise the life of the church. Those components include youth group mission trips, outreach and ministries, as well as the many activities that have been stirred up in the church’s kitchen and the work done by the United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women (UMW).
In fact, it has been the steadfast efforts of the latter group that helped sustain the church through many of its years, said church member and historian Barb Kalm.
Kalm has been collecting and chronicling the history of Solon United Methodist Church for some time. It started in 2005, when members of the UMW decided to compile a history of the church’s kitchen and put it into written form to showcase the time-honored recipes– there is nothing like the church ladies’ made-from-scratch kolaches, hand-breaded tenderloins, famous Church Burgers or homemade noodle soup– as well as traditions that have become part of the church’s service and annual calendar.
“I invited several ladies to come and talk about the kitchen, the football dinners, the recipes… and the more I wrote down, the more I realized it wasn’t just the history of the kitchen; it was the history of the church,” Kalm said.
A storage closet in the fellowship hall proved to be a cache of information.
“That closet was a curiosity to me,” said Kalm. She pulled boxes to the tables and the group sorted through them. “I had two tables full of boxes, and once we started going through them, the history started to unfold.”
Since finding that treasure trove of news clippings, documents, church group meeting minutes, photographs, and other memorabilia, Kalm has worked to organize it all into a volume for publication.
She also consulted the Iowa Historical Society, did a great deal of online research, interviewed church members and found much of the church’s history written in a ledger of complete meeting minutes kept by the UMC members– originally called the Ladies’ Guild– since 1898.
“It became a story. It was written in beautiful, hand-written script. The dues for the first 50 years were 10 cents a meeting. They were totally dedicated to keeping the church afloat. The church had very little revenue and no one had any money, so at every meeting they talked about what they were going to do (to raise revenues) for the month,” Kalm said.
Fundraisers back then ranged from selling aprons and embroidered handkerchiefs to saving Lux Flakes box tops to get dishes for the kitchen.
“I thought, if they can do that, I can write the history,” Kalm said.
Timelines have been done over the years, and Kalm compiled the information from each into a comprehensive one.
The first organized church in Solon was the Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1840, six years before Iowa gained statehood. Their first church building was described by Jessie Newcomb in her written history of Solon, initially printed in 1922, as being “on a rocky knoll on the north side of the road that leads from Solon to the cemetery.”
In 1855, Paul Anders, one of the pioneers of Solon, gave the church society two lots and $20 to build a church; a one-room structure that was painted red and used as a place of worship and community gathering spot for 24 years. In 1879, the little red building was sold and a new, 38-foot by 50-foot church was built at a cost of $2,800. Five years later, an over-heated furnace caused a fire that burned the building to the ground.
“The year 1884 was pivotal in the existence of the church,” said Kalm. “The church burned in January, and the congregation met in February to decide whether to give up Methodism and join with the Presbyterians, but they voted against it.”
Instead, the members decided to erect a new church, at a cost of $2,600. They laid the cornerstone in June and the church was in use by September of the same year; that structure houses the current sanctuary.
In the 1950s, a basement was built under the church, and a fellowship hall added in the 1970s. The sanctuary was expanded in the 1990s, and the new Family Life Center was constructed across the street in 2004.
Kalm is able to speak fluently about other interesting points in the church’s history, including the “circuit riders,” the traveling clergy who came on horseback to deliver sermons in early years, before rural churches were assigned permanent pastors. She noted that Rev. Edgar Helms, the founder of Goodwill, served as the pastor in 1890. Solon’s first permanent pastor– one who served longer than one to three years– was Dennis Tevis, who came in 1977. There have only been four others since.
Even broader than the events that shaped Solon’s church history, the larger United Methodist Church organization grew and changed with the country itself.
According to the United Methodist Church’s organizational website, Methodism dates back to 1736 and founder John Wesley and his brother Charles. Englishman John Wesley was strongly against the Revolutionary War, but after American independence was won, Wesley recognized changes were necessary in American Methodism. In 1784, the movement became organized as the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Notably, John Wesley was vehemently opposed to slavery– in 1758, he baptized two slaves, among the first in Methodist societies– and the moral issue of slavery became a significant factor in how the church continued to develop.
In the late 18th century, contention over slavery ultimately split Methodism into separate northern and southern divisions. The Methodist Episcopal Church later joined with two other church bodies that took a strong stance against slavery– the Church of the United Brethren and the Evangelical Association– to form the United Methodist Church in 1968.
Wesley’s devotion to the ethical treatment of others remains a strong influence in the Methodist Church’s social principles: that all persons are equally valuable in the sight of God, that it supports basic human rights and rejects discriminating acts against anyone based on aspects like race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, economic status, gender identify or religious affiliation.
Kalm believes the Solon United Methodist Church has always practiced acceptance, and its inclusive service activities– from the ecumenical quilting group to the Wednesday night community meals, serving as Solon’s senior dining site and hosting the local food pantry– has continued to demonstrate the church’s engagement in social issues.
“At the very beginning, Jessie Newcomb talks about how the church’s doors were always open to everyone, that it was always a place where people were welcome. I’ve not found anything in my research that is to the contrary, and I think that continues to shine through,” Kalm said.
The Solon United Methodist Church invites everyone to join its celebration of 175 years of service and spiritual presence in the community Sunday, Aug. 30. An additional celebration will be held the third Sunday in October, revival-style, titled “Old Time Religion.”