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Rehoboth church to celebrate 175 years Aug. 15

Rehoboth Presbyterian Church in Laconia ‘ the second oldest church in Harrison County ‘ will celebrate 175 years during a special service on Sunday, Aug. 15.
The service begins at 2 p.m. at the church and several former pastors are coming back to speak, including the Revs. Amanda Ragland, Sonda Kirsteatter, Albert Early, John R. Stahlman, Emett Barfield, David Pittinger, Robert Bennett and Malcom Peel.
The current pastor is the Rev. Frank Haines of Louisville, who has been at Rehoboth for 10 years.
Freshly Brewed, a Harrison County gospel group, will perform three selections. Accompanists for the service will be a brother and sister, Clyde Wayne Luther of Jeffersonville and Donna Nebel of Elizabeth. (The regular pianist is Jane Caudill.)
After the service, a time capsule buried at the 150th anniversary celebration will be opened, and a new capsule will be buried, said Pati Funk, an elder at the church.
‘It’s a rededication for the next 175 years,’ she said.
Refreshments and fellowship time will follow. Caterer is Patty Nalley, and Mary Rose Stevens of Elizabeth will provide the cake.
Rehoboth now has 46 active members. The oldest members are George Hill and Helen Anderson Haas. Hill joined in 1941, and Haas in 1947.
Rehoboth was established on Aug. 15, 1829, by the Rev. Alexander Williamson, who was the first pastor and moderator until 1838. Joseph Armstrong was clerk of session then.
Since its founding, the church has had a long line of student and stated supplies, session moderators and a few ordained pastors.
Funk, who did much research in preparation for the celebration, said 73 people have been leaders at Rehoboth, the second oldest church in Harrison County that has maintained a continuous, active existence. (The first is Corydon Presbyterian, which was organized Jan. 2, 1819.)
‘There are clear and accurate Session minutes from the 1890s up until early 1900s,’ Funk said. ‘From the 1900s until the late 1940s, it is rather sparse and no accurate minutes are recorded. There are events from the early 1900s that are difficult to recall because the lack of recordings from this time period.’
Rehoboth is a biblical word, found in four places in the Old Testament. The Hebrew root for Rehoboth means broad places, open spaces, freedom and spacious.
When the Rehoboth congregation built its first church, a log building on Mosquito Creek, a ‘burying ground’ was also marked off, Funk said. ‘The cemetery is a rich part of this congregation.’
It is believed that Joshua Bennett, a Revolutionary War soldier, is buried there. He was taken to his grave on a bobsled pulled by a team of oxen, Funk said.
The annual Memorial Day Chicken Barbecue Dinner has been a Rehoboth tradition since about 1955. Early on, proceeds from the dinner were used to help maintain the cemetery.
Funk said the cemetery was turned over to a foundation in the 1960s. The board of directors now oversee the upkeep of the cemetery.
The first church building was also used as a school.
In 1859, the second structure was built. Designed by the Rev. Williamson, it had two doors, ‘so the men entered the left door and the women entered the door on the right,’ Funk said.
The present church, the third one used by the congregation, was dedicated on May 11, 1905. Funk said it is believed its location was to allow more room for the cemetery.
A Ladies’ Aid Hall that stood for more than 60 years next to the church was torn down about 1989.
‘It had a rich heritage in itself,’ Funk said, ‘as it was known by many in the community as their one-room schoolhouse they attended as children.
‘They stopped teaching school there around 1951,’ she said. ‘The Fellowship Hall was built in 1989 to replace the Ladies’ Aid Hall.’
During Rehoboth Presbyterian Church’s first 50 years, many members traveled four miles or more to attend services.
‘They walked, came on horseback or rode in ‘chuck wagons,’ ‘ Funk said. ‘The first buggy seen in the county belonged to Rehoboth members named Kintner.’
Because of the distance from their homes, members from Laconia formed their own congregation in 1874. Others left Rehoboth and began Presbyterian churches closer to where they lived: Valley City Ebenezer, established in 1864; Memorial, 1871; Laconia and Glenwood, both established in 1874; Evans Landing, 1875; Elizabeth, 1887, and Riverside, 1912. Another establishment was made in Sharon, but the year was unavailable.
The present church was damaged by a tornado on March 18, 1925, and was repaired at considerable expense by a storm-stricken community, Funk said.
Then in July 1977, the building was damaged again. This time, 15 window panes were blown in, the roof was punctured in several places, and four grave markers in the cemetery were knocked over by blowing limbs.
A modern convenience ‘ a telephone ‘ was installed at the church in 2002.
In 2003, the church was refurbished with new carpet, curtains and fresh paint. Some of the original hardwood floors can now be seen.
‘We added handicapped-accessible ramps a few years ago,’ Funk said. ‘We also added barbecue pits and a shelterhouse.’
The Memorial Day Chicken Barbecue Dinner and Bazaar at the church started around 1955 and is still popular with the community, as is the Oyster Dinner and Bazaar started many years prior to the barbecue dinner.
‘Some people still remember the oysters being fried on coal oil stoves in the church,’ Funk said. ‘Cokes were a nickel back then!’
Sunday School was an on-again, off-again program at Rehoboth until April 10, 1988, when, after a 20-year hiatus, a new program was started and remains active today.
For more information about Rehoboth Presbyterian Church or the Aug. 15 anniversary celebration, call 969-2814.

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