Pastor's Corner 

Pastor George M. Showers serves as our senior pastor. He has an extensive background in the education field. He has an amazing ability to communicate and is very active in the community. Between nursing home visits, hospital visits, home visits, weddings, funerals, Sunday services and all the boards he sits on; one wonders how he can fit it all in. We are Truly blessed to have him as our Pastor. Check here to get the latest thoughts from Pastor Showers. 
How Seville Came to be...

        

           Gratiot County is right in the geographical center of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Today, from a perspective of land mass, it is made up mostly of agricultural fields, but that was not always the case. A look at early missionary work and statistical data will help to paint the picture of those conditions. Back in the mid-eighteen hundreds, it was a much different, much less tame place to be. In fact, many viewed this area as inhabitable not just because of its very thick ground cover, but also from the dangers of wild cats, swamps, mud holes, lack of roads, and Indians. The overarching geographical development of settlements in Michigan was from the outside of the state inward and mainly from the south to the north. As the outside coastal areas of Michigan developed, it seemed only a matter of time before settlers would move inland as they were incentivized by the government’s promise of cheap land and very practical business opportunities that the virgin timber would offer.

           As it has been in so many other cases; long before the businessmen came in pursuit of financial interests, there were missionaries. One of the most well-known missions in the area came in the 1840’s and was launched from a very strong Lutheran church in Bavaria, Germany. The church’s influence was brought over to the Saginaw area early in the nineteenth century by German immigrants that remained connected to their homelands. The Lutheran church was very zealous in building up this area of Michigan. They were diligent in training up young Lutheran men to enter into Saginaw with instructions to open missions among the Chippewa Indians. Several communities, like Frankenmuth in Saginaw County, sprang out of this, but the mission in Gratiot County would prove to be the mission’s largest failure.[1] The specific mission to this area would become known as the Bethany Mission. It provided blankets, clothing, education, and food to the Indians anytime they were in want. This was a very costly mission for the Lutheran church. This was true not only from a material resource perspective. The church was sending missionaries in from Germany which had to be just as taxing on the ministers that were not only adjusting to a new country, but a new people group that they had never encountered.

             The resources, however, seemed plenty in the big city of Saginaw, which aided in the endeavor. The persistence of the mission and nomadic nature of the Chippewa literally pulled the missionaries westward deep into the Saginaw Valley all the way to Gratiot County. Perhaps the entirety of the mission can be summed up as follows:

 

[speaking of the Bethany Mission]…difficult task of keeping in contact with the Indians due mainly to their roaming habits; the futility of all attempts to interest the men; the failure to make impressions by using meaningless theological concepts; the advent of the white settler; the machinations of the trader and vendor of “fire water”; the competition of the Methodists; the desire of the Indian primarily for material benefits; the attachment to native customs; foe evil influence of the white men’s behavior; foe Indian’s feeling of the superiority of his race over all others; foe almost continual need of an interpreter; and foe establishment of a Chippewa Indian reservation in Isabella County.

 

In short, what the mission could not contend with and seemed to ultimately be their demise was the saloons and influence brought in by the lumbermen. The number of lumbermen and settlers increased as the value for white pine and maple lumber grew for construction purposes. To make matters worse, the government made a treaty with the Indians of Michigan and gave heads of families 80 acres each and single Indians 40 acres within the boundaries of the Isabella Chippewa Indian Reservation. This was (and is) located immediately north of Gratiot County. Many of the Indians of the Bethany mission moved north and away from the influence of the Lutheran mission. It was (and is) against the law for “white” non-Chippewa peoples to live on the reservation. This made it next to impossible to remain in constant contact with the Chippewa which, some would argue, is essential for discipleship. Despite many attempts to send fresh pastors from Germany to save this mission and spending thousands in hopes to rekindle the work, the church officially declared the mission a failure in 1859.[2] This is not to say that the need for missional work was gone, as time would later prove.

            What Gratiot County lacked in large bodies of water it made up for in its rivers. The mighty Pine, Bad, and Maple rivers became an attractive means for lumbermen to transport logs, tools, and supplies back and forth between more established cities like Saginaw. Mills began to be built and soon settlers came seeking steady work with the chance to carve out a piece of the American dream that so many were in search of. To say that the lumber boom was huge at this time would be a vast understatement. It is estimated that about 612 million board feet of lumber were cut between 1857 and 1880 in Gratiot County alone.[3] That is enough lumber to build a walkway three feet wide by one inch thick around the entire circumference of the earth east to west with enough left over to build a second walkway, of equal dimensions, around the world running north to south. These are estimates from many of the mills that sprang up during that time.

            Seville Township, located on the northwestern corner of Gratiot County, was especially known for the more valuable pine trees. It also had three railway lines that ran through it; the Detroit, the Lansing, and the Northern railway. It had three stations as well; Seville, Riverdale, and Elwell.[4] Everything in this area from about 1855 to the early 1900’s revolved around the lumber industry. However glamorous it may have seemed for the lumber tycoons, it was a very different experience for the individual families seeking better lives for themselves and future generations.

At the risk of stating the obvious; food was made from the ground. While this sounds easy and obvious, there was not much-exposed ground to be found in Gratiot County. Many of the men following the work still had to clear their own land and provide for their families. This was to be done after long laborious days of cutting, loading, or dragging timber. An early settler named Henry Boyer illustrated a story of one of his neighbors that helps to capture the fluctuating conditions of the time,

 

…[T]o illustrate how thin a man can get on a ‘mixed’ diet. The family, consisting of six persons, subsisted on a pint of milk with maple sugar and leeks, and a soup made from basswood buds. The husband and father were working as hard as he was able, to clear up a little farm, but often complained to Mr. Boyer that his ‘liver’ knocked against his ribs so hard that he could scarcely split rails![5][6]

 

If that was not bad enough roads were either nonexistent or short-lived as they quickly grew back closed. Adding to that were the mud holes that would develop during changes of season. Certainly, these factors inhibited immigration into the area if, albeit, for a short time.

            During this developing time of Gratiot County, America was experiencing revivalism and a new found hunger for evangelism that favored missionary work. Methodism found success in the expanding country on the frontier with its circuit riders and ability to inspire young men to become preachers.[7] This form of church growth would prove to be much more successful if fast growth has anything to do with success, as compared to the initial missionary work of the Lutheran church. Unlike the Lutheran church, after these new local American churches were started, they were self-sustaining, even while they waited for their preachers. It was common for these congregants to wait weeks in between preacher visits. While it is impossible to guess the number of churches that started around Gratiot County during the mid-1800s, it is evident that many more started than remained. While these churches were largely independent they found continuity within their denominations. The funny thing about denominations is that while they made hard distinctions about everything from church membership to how often communion was taken; they fostered a sense of unity. This was achieved not only through circuit riders but also through publications, hymnals, and common education.[8] The more prominent (in the sense of historical documentation) church denominations in the area during this time were the Baptists, the Congregational church, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Unquestionably dominant were the Seventh Day Adventists. Not only did they seem to educate the youth, but kept their congregants close with their many publications. The Churches of God also had publications and missionaries that would help tame this wild place, but they would not find their way to Gratiot until the late 1800s. What a journey it must have been.

            Alexander B. Slyter, together with three other preachers, expanded from Northern Indiana into Southern Michigan in 1849. Unfortunately, in the perspective of the Indiana Eldership and General Eldership in the Churches of God, their initial efforts were in vain. Even though the three churches started in Lower Michigan had a solid sixty-five members, they were much too far away to be part of any Eldership. No doubt from the persistence of Slyter, the General Eldership agreed to meet with the churches in 1850. It was decided that Michigan would need to form its own Eldership as Ohio and Indiana were just too far away. So they did. They elected Slyter as their first Speaker. He remained a helper to the Michigan pastors and in 1854 moved back to Indiana.

               The Michigan Eldership nearly collapsed after Slyter left and he came back to revive it in 1859. His leadership stabilized the Michigan Eldership and its three preachers. It could be argued that this was pivotal for the future of the Michigan Eldership when considering that this was at a time when they did not even have a church building. Rather they each took circuits and met in private houses, school-houses, and the woods. By the time the Michigan Eldership met annually for the third time, their future did not look promising at all. They were down to two preachers sharing one circuit. The work was tough and took a lot of patience. These missionaries would ride miles in between churches in all seasons to promote the Gospel of Jesus.

Sometime after the third meeting, the Michigan Eldership picked up a failing Baptist church and what was left of their congregation, three more pastors, and two circuits. By the middle of the 1850’s, the Michigan Eldership seemed to be doing well. However, it would be another six years before they held there next annual meeting. It is important to understand that not showing up to an annual General Eldership meeting was as close to not existing as one could get in the denomination. Reflecting back on this time C.C. Linsley said: “This period embraces the most solemn parts of our history.”[9] He cited the biggest challenges facing the Michigan Eldership during this time were the United Brethren’s active mission work, the appeal to Seventh Day Adventism, and migration westward in the state. Somehow they expanded slowly and by 1861 the Michigan Eldership had expanded into five circuits and was taken care of by mostly Ohio and Indiana clergy.[10]

            The rest of the 1860’s proved to be a type of crucible for the fledgling Michigan pastors and missionaries that would test even the strongest resolve. As evidenced in the 10th Michigan Eldership meeting, some did not make it through. It was said of a particular pastor by the name of L. Lovejoy,

           

            …[the General Eldership] concurred in the action of the church in Cascade…and in the withdrawal of the right hand of fellowship from him, and that his named be dropped, inasmuch as he says he does not enjoy religion.[11]

 

Despite the setbacks, the General Eldership remained committed to the circuits in Michigan. The first evidence of Gratiot County becoming part of one of those circuits was from the 18th Michigan Eldership meeting, held in 1865. It was during this meeting that the Michigan Eldership was cautioned in regards to forming alliances with the Church of Christ. According to Thomas (the acting editor at the time), this group was “…a mixture of malcontents under the leadership of Hiram Rathbun, largely fashioned after the United Brethren Church.”[12] Little is found in regards to whether or not this alliance was fruitful. Generally speaking, the Church of God General Conference has a long history of encouraging healthy relationships with other believers. It seems that whatever alliances were made, aided in the expansion of the Michigan Eldership. That said, it is important to note that because numerous splits have been made from the denomination, most happening in the late nineteenth century, one cannot rule out that the caution on record from the General Eldership was well deserved.

            By 1873 the General Eldership was encouraging permanent preaching places for the Michigan preachers as they were still viewed as a missionary work. The need for permanent places to preach in Michigan became apparent in 1878 when the Michigan Eldership met its first real legal opposition. A man with the first initial of W and last name of Seifried organized a group referring to themselves as the Northern Michigan Eldership of the Church of God at Carson City Michigan. This group threatened to take the property of the Michigan Eldership and attempted to intimidate the pastors from solemnizing marriages by vowing to prosecute them. Fortunately for the Michigan Eldership, the State of Michigan recognized any religious body or corporation that formally met in the exercise of franchises and privilege for a period of ten years as legally organized. It made sense to the church that since it was recorded that the Michigan Eldership had been meeting consistently since 1853 it would be concluded that they fell under the protection of this law should they actually be prosecuted. The General Eldership held firm and land was not lost during this time nor were there any legal proceedings outside of a legal letter from an attorney. There was, however, a sense of division within Michigan that was not dealt with and would eventually lead to the attempt at the creating two Michigan Elderships. Before much damage was done, the Standing Committee of the General Eldership halted the election of officers for any Michigan Eldership and adopted a resolution that did not allow two Elderships in the same State. All this seem to be sorted out at the first Michigan Eldership meeting held at the New Haven Center church in Gratiot County 1881.

            The second meeting held at the New Haven location brought nineteen ministers and nine delegates and took place in 1890. This meeting was considered to be “the best ever held in Michigan.” L.J. Teed was elected president and would prove pivotal in the permanent formation of a Michigan church. Religious fervor was so high within the Churches of God at the beginning of the 1890s that it was commented on in the 39th Michigan Eldership meeting. Hopes were soaring very high for the Michigan Eldership. L.J. Teed was elected General Missionary throughout Michigan and paid a salary of $350.00. The work in Michigan was going well, but it was struggling to find qualified individuals for ministerial work. The General Eldership increased the pressure for higher education for pastors under the age of 45. Individuals seeking ministry were required to read textbooks and complete competency tests. The felt need for quality ministerial education was so high that toward 1896, a search committee went out to search for a suitable property and location for some type of academy within the Michigan Eldership. No follow up was reported on in the immediate time following the formation of the search committee.[13] It seems that Findlay College ended up meeting this need.

            It was not until 1901 that the first formal appearance of Seville Center, Gratiot County found its name in the official General Eldership records.[14] This is presumably because many of these circuits or missions were still meeting at school-houses and private houses. Specifically, the Seville congregants met at an old French school-house on Madison Road. The Seville Center was a work that sprang up from the many indirect efforts of countless individuals and direct efforts of L.J. Teed, S.S. Teed, J.D. Tanner, Daniel Wiles, W.J. McNutt, and people of their ilk. Both Teeds (brothers) along with Daniel Wiles were noted men of Gratiot County. Mr. Wiles held positions in the school districts and was known for his diligent hard work in the township to advance the education interests of the community.[15] S.S. Teed was a school inspector and known for having the strictest integrity.[16] M.S. Hemminger served as a missionary and evangelist as early as 1900 for the Seville Center. He is recognized as Seville’s first pastor. He would preach and teach at the meetings in this area and labored to grow the Church of God influence. He preached his farewell sermon at the center on September 11, 1904, just before a new church building was dedicated.[17] Presumably, Hemminger continued his missionary efforts in other areas as he became more involved with the General Eldership, holding various positions throughout the duration of his ministry.

            A man by the name of William Humphrey donated some land on Madison Road sometime in the late 1890’s to the Church of God.[18] The land was adjacent to the French school-house that became a common meeting place for the early congregants. The project was slow and work on the building was completed as funds became available. The building was dedicated on September 18, 1904 with Rev. Moffitt delivering an address on the “Pleasures of Giving.” Unfortunately, the dedication service was not well attended on the account of rain.[19] Invitations to this dedication service were sent out by Hemminger. The invitation read,

No preventing providence, the church building at Seville Center will be dedicated to the Lord September 18, 1904. Elder I.E. Moffitt will preach the dedicatorial sermon. A general invitation is extended to all the brotherhood, and especially the ministry. Brethren, come up to the house of the Lord, pray for a refreshing season from the presence of the Lord. Arrangements will be made to entertain all that desire to come.[20]

 

Early ministers to the new church included pastors Tanner, McNutt, Teeds (both brothers), Leply, and Snyder. Daniel White raised funds to purchase and install a bell for the church that is still in use today. It was dedicated at the service on November 24, 1910.

            What is known today as the Seville Community Church of God, is here and a part of the Churches of God General Conference by way of the Great Lakes Conference, because of some very stubborn individuals. Men called by God to advance the Kingdom of God. In some cases men and women who did not know enough to quit. Their unwavering commitment towards the fellowship of believers is a sentiment that is still held by the Seville congregants today. Understanding how Seville came to be a part of the Churches of God leaves little doubt that this rich heritage is something that is engrained into the people there. Seville was not an accidental start-up nor was it failing independent church that was scooped up by a big denomination. Rather it was an intentional plant by missionaries for the expressed purposes of advancing the kingdom. As far as church start-ups go, I cannot think of a more loving act.

 

 

[1] Jagnow, Albert A. Lutheran Missions in North America. Lutheran Quarterly 5. No. 1:78-88

[2] Willard Tucker, Gratiot County, Michigan: Historical, Biographical, Statistical. Saginaw,

Michigan: Press of Seemann & Peters, 1913, accessed May 17, 2017. Pages 31-35.

[3] Chapman Brothers. Portrait and Biographical Album of Gratiot County, Mich: County and

Regional Histories of the “Old Northwest.” Michigan. Chapman Brothers 1884,  page 813.

[4] Chapman Brothers, page 749.

[5] Chapman Brothers, page 740.

[6] The term splitting rails refers to splitting wood lengthwise in order to make fence posts or rustic railways.

[7] Bruec Shelley, Church History in Plain Language, 3rd Edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas

Nelson, Inc., 2008.

 

[8] Time Dowley, editor, Introduction to the History of Christianity Second Edition. Minneapolis,

Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2013, pages 459-465.

 

[9] C.H. Forney, History of the Churches of God in the United States of North America, Harrisburg, PA: Publishing House of the Churches of God, 1914, page 482

 

[10] Forney, pages 485-489.

[11] Forney, page 490.

[12] Forney, page 491.

[13] Forney, pages 494-499.

[14] Forney, page 502.

[15] Chapman Brothers, page 645.

[16] Chapman Brothers, page 355.

[17] Alma Record. September 16, 1904, page 2.

 

[18] Patricia Hamp, Gratiot Co. MIGENWEB. Michigan Family History Network, 2013.

[19] Alma Recorder, September 23, 1904, page 7.

[20] Invitation found in the Seville Community Church of God historical folder, credit for authorship M.S. Hemminger, Pastor.

Blessings!

 


In His Service,
 

 

Associate Pastor Bob Fall.

 

       

© 2013 by Seviile Community Church of God. all rights preserved.

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