Serving Adams County for Since 1856
The New Frontier
The story of Salem Magley Church reaches back into the early days of Adams County. Pioneers began to settle our county in the early years of the 19th century. In 1819, to be exact. The first settler of our community was the ____ Henry Lowe. By 1826, there were four log in 556 square miles. During that time, bears and wolves roamed a land covered by in forest.
Our story begins in 1839, three years after Adams County was officially organized, when four men moved from their happy hometown of Lienen, Tecklenburg in Prussia, Germany to settle in Adams County. These men, Friedrich Buller, Wilhelm Hilgemann, Wilhelm Voldermakr, and Fristz Yost, shared a home and worked together to clear the forest so they could make a home here.
A Church to Call Home
In the early years, they attended a local Lutheran congregation because a congregation of their faith tradition was not yet established in the area. The protestant reformation finds its roots in the reforms led by the German monk turned reformer Martin Luther. Soon to follow were what has become known as the Reformed reforms. German and Swiss faith leaders who shared Luther's convictions about the state of the Roman Catholic church, but disagreed on finer points of theology. It is said of our founders that they yearned for the Reformed faith. But the question remains, what was the Reformed faith, and how did it differ from the Lutheran faith?
From the best we can tell, the biggest differences between Lutheran and Reformed churches in this era was worship and sacramental theology. Worship services in Lutheran churches were much more similar to the Roman Catholic Mass, while Reformed worship serviced tended to be simpler, with a stronger focus on word and preaching. Sacramental theology is a fancy way of naming one's beliefs about baptism and the Lord's Supper. By far the biggest chasm between Luther and other Reformed reformers was their beliefs about the Lord's Supper. To a lesser degree, there were also disagreements about baptism, but to sum things up, Reformed Churches and Lutheran Churches just talked about faith differently. Those differences fanned a flame of desire in our founders to return to their Reformed roots.
A New Community Is Born
By this time the four settlers had grown, and a small congregation began to form what would become Salem Magley. At first our budding congregation was visited irregularly by various ministers sent from the mother church based in Fort Wayne. All this began to change in 1850 when the pastor of St. John's Reformed Church in Fort Wayne, Dr. Rossard agreed to walked the twenty miles from Fort Wayne to the Magley area about every four weeks to preach the Word and administer the sacraments to our little congregation. Two other pastors from St. John's, The Rev. Benz and Dr. J. H. Klein continued this practice after Dr. Rossard until 1856.
It was in June 1856 that our congregation was officially found when fourteen men and their families came together to call a pastor and form a congregation. The pastor they received was The Rev. Peter Vitz, and with his help Salem Magley Church was born, then under the name The German Reformed Salem Congregation, later shortened to Salem Reformed Church
The new congregation set out at once to build a suitable space for worship. Up to this point, they'd been meeting in homes, but felt the time was right to erect a church building. This original building was 30 feet wide and 40 feet long, and sat where our parsonage is currently located, north of our current building near our old cemetery. This building was in use for some years, even after it was replaced by our current building. It was later moved to a nearby farm and still stands to this day.
In 1890, our seventh minister was called, The Rev. Edward Vornholt. Shortly after his arrival, the decision was made to build a new church building. On July 31, 1892, the cornerstone of our current building was laid and construction began. Much of this building was built by the hard work of the congregation, and when it was completed it cost a total of $10,613.21. The new building was dedicated on July 30, 1893, with a crowd of over 2000 coming from the surrounding area, as far as Fort Wayne and Huntington, to participate in the festivities.
The Changes of the 20th Century
Much has changed since the 19th century. Much change was in store for the congregation of Salem Magley, too, at the turn of the 20th century. The first major change was was brought about by Wold War I. Being of German heritage, many of our founding documents and a number of classes and services were in German. This was changed in response to the events of Wold War I. Another change that was brought on by the 20th century was electricity. The church building was wired for electricity and lights were installed in ______. In 1934 a denominational change came when the German Reformed Church merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America to become the Evangelical and Reformed Church. This brought a name change to our congregation and we became Salem Evangelical and Reformed Church.
Another change of similar order came to our congregation in 1957 when the Evangelical and Reformed Church united with the Congregational Christian Churches to from the United Church of Christ. With this merger, we became Salem United Church of Christ with the designation "Magley" in parenthesis.
This was a time of expansion for our congregation as we saw the addition of an educational building to our campus that included a fellowship hall, a new kitchen, and a number of classroom configuration options in both the upstairs and downstairs. During these years we also saw an expansion of ministry at Salem Magley with both an adult and children's choir, two men's quartet groups, a hand bell choir, the Women's Guild, the Ladies' Aid, the youth fellowship, and even a church basketball team for a time.
The Challenges of the 21st Century
The 21st century brought new challenges and opportunities to our congregation. At Salem Magley one of the first challenges we faced in the 21st century was the shift in theological and social convictions of mainline denominations around the country and the rise of non denominational churches. Both of these challenges continue to shape the life and ministry of our congregation.
For the first decade or so of the 2000s we remained Salem United Church of Christ (Magley) until 2016, when we decided to leave the United Church of Christ and become an independent church. At this time, we had our fourth name change when we adopted our current name: Salem Magley Church. Though we did not join another denomination, we've remained in touch with our roots, becoming a member of the Evangelical Association of Reformed and Congregational Christian Churches, an association of churches with Reformed and Congregational heritage.
We continue to navigate the second challenge, which is connected to the changing tide of church in America. The 21st century has not been kind so far to churches like ours, we are very much aware that we must adapt fast or risk becoming a memory. One way we've looked to adapt is through the type of ministry we do. In recent years we've started to focus our mission and support to both local and global partners. We support a number of local and regional ministries throughout the year (you can find a list of our partners here). Our biggest mission effort throughout the year is our fall harvest festival when we raise money for Growing Hope Globally, Hero Meals, and Operation Help. In addition to this ministry, we also have members who volunteer for Hero Meals and Operation Help throughout the year.
While these are examples of ways that we look to expand the ministry we do, we continue to focus on our roots. Our founders started our congregation with one thing in mind: a desire to cultivate a Christian community where they felt they belonged. This is our aim as we gather each week to worship, pray, and study together.
As we've embarked on the newest chapter of our 160 plus year journey, please consider joining us as we write the next season of our history together!