When Medina was just a clear spot in the wilderness, the earliest settlers knew they needed divine guidance.
Doctrinal differences weren’t so important to the pioneers venturing into the untamed frontier, but having a place to worship was, so the Episcopalians in the bunch and the Congregationalists struck a deal.
They would build a communal space for both groups to use — and they did in 1817, raising a log cabin in one day to prepare for a traveling Episcopalian rector to pass through. Two years later, the two churches outgrew the cabin and the Congregationalists established their own church.
Two hundred years, tumultuous changes in society and several buildings later, the original footprint of those first leaders still lives in the red-brick landmark building on Public Square.
That was the humble beginning of Medina United Church of Christ, Congregational.
The church is celebrating its bicentennial with a year of activities and events, to kick off with a special historic-themed worship service on Sunday.
Partying like its 1919
It’s a bit of a twist, though — organizers are planning to mark the traditional “Founder’s Day” with a service in the style of 1919, not 1819. It was a decision made out of convenience — for one thing, it was easier to find period costumes, but also out of historical perspective.
“Here in Medina, and in historic communities in general, we like to re-enact early times, but we’re playing with time a bit here and only jumping back 100 years. But there is a lot of history that unfolded between pre-Civil War and the present day, and we thought why don’t we look at those events,” said Harry Buch, a church member, retired UCC pastor and co-chairman of the bicentennial planning committee.
“It’s to remind us to ‘remember the future,’ to remember and be inspired by these people who settled here and were interested in creating a future for themselves,” he said.
‘Christ and Evolution’
The church is working with Beck Center for the Performing Arts in Lakewood to rent a dozen or so costumes for church members to set the mood. The worship music will be in the style of the early 20th century and the Rev. Luke Lindon will deliver a sermon unearthed from the church’s archives from a pastor from that age.
Lindon was pleasantly surprised to see how fresh the 100-year-old sermon still seems.
The Rev. H. Samuel Fritsch, who pastored the church from 1911 to 1918, penned the homily, “Christ and Evolution.”
“He is saying ‘What is evolution? It is but the name that scientific men have given to God working.’ It’s really interesting. It’s pretty refreshing and a lot more nuanced, which I highly respect,” Lindon said.
The sermon is just one of many treasures unearthed as the church geared up for its bicentennial.
The original cabin was about 3 miles outside of what would become the village of Medina. When the village was laid out, the church could have purchased land in another spot, but the founders waited until they could get the spot they wanted — the northeast corner of Public Square, at the intersection of Liberty and Broadway streets. A brick church was originally built under the name of First Congregational Church, but both the building and the name are lost to time.
The present church was built in 1882, with modifications and expansions over the years. The location is just as important to the modern parishioners as it was back then, church officials say: a notable physical presence in the heart of town, to be in the midst of its community.
Part of the bicentennial observances reflects this.
Main Street Medina will issue a historical ornament honoring the church’s history this year. The church is awaiting a historical marker from the Ohio History Connection, to be unveiled later this year, along with a bike rack installed to welcome downtown riders, and it is building a pergola and a garden sanctuary to give those strolling through downtown a place to rest.
Those are just a few of the physical representations of the church’s desire to serve its community, Buch said. It strives to serve in its intangible ways, too, ministering to souls in ways as diverse as feeding programs in schools, leading gaming sessions to interact with teens at the Medina Library and being known for its hospitable ways.
“We are fortunate to have a vibrant and dynamic younger pastor, he’s a lot of fun and very good at what he does,” Buch said. “And lots of younger and older members are brought in by the welcoming nature of the congregation. I have visited many churches and you could stand in the middle of a fellowship hall and not one would come up and say ‘hi.’”
Being ‘led here’
Lindon didn’t expect to end up in Medina but several things seemed to point him to the church.
When he dropped by for an impromptu interview, he was admiring the church’s renovation efforts that have added an elevator and handicapped-accessible access to the structure when he noticed a list of memorial of soldiers’ names from World War II. The first name he noticed was a man for whom Lindon had officiated his funeral at his previous post in Sylvania.
“It was the first time I felt like a real life pastor,” Lindon said.
Then, on his first day on the job in Holy Week 2017, he picked up a book of church history and read the story of the first meeting of the joint cabin settlers’ church on April 10, 1817.
It was April 10, 2017.
“It was another one of those moments that just made me feel led here,” he said.
Part of the year’s events will include sharing “Senior Profiles,” the memories of longtime members about the church’s history, and on March 16 Buch and his wife, retired Rev. Pam Branscome, will conduct a special event to record more memories to go into the church archives.
A powerful past
Buch and Lindon credit church archivist Peter Metzloff with digging through the documents and historical records to scan and compile and post bits of information online, along with unearthing anecdotal gems of the church’s place in times past.
In one story, a church leader in the early 1800s prematurely left the church, finding the church too backwater.
“He basically said ‘I can’t hack Medina, it’s too pioneer, too frontier town’ and went back to a First Congregational Church of Hudson and a couple weeks later a man stands up there and says ‘Slavery is an abomination and I will end it,’” Lindon said.
The man was John Brown.
Twenty-two years later, Brown would lead a raid on a federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now in West Virginia). That would lead to his execution. Succession and the Civil War came the next year.
Another story about the year had long been told, but not confirmed until recently.
Medina businessman Amos Ives Root started the A.I. Root Co. just after the Civil War to provide honey and beekeeping supplies.
Today the company is known for its candles, which started after a priest asked the company to provide candles for liturgical purposes.
Church members had long heard that the UCC was the first church locally to be electrified, and according to the story, it was due to Root’s stature as a member. Root electrified his factory first, then his dentist’s office because he didn’t like the foot-powered dental drill, and then ran lines to the church, people said.
But while a local historian did find proof of parts of that story, no link to the church was found, Lindon said, until the church began a renovation project in 2015. Power was cut off to the church while electricians were working on new utility lines, but not all the power shut off.
“The electricians looked and found an original line from the Root factory powering part of the church, which was really cool,” Lindon said.
Membership can ebb and flow for a number of reasons, but church leaders are poised to continue being a vital part of a community’s — and a society’s — life.
“Christianity in general is going through a time of upheaval and change. Some (churches) are meeting those challenges and thriving and others are struggling to stay alive. We are stepping up to facing the fact that we have a purpose for existing,” Buch said.
“Our true essential reason is for us to be a physical embodiment of a loving God who loves his creation, who pays attention to and cares for those who have need. Any other purpose is secondary.”
Lindon looks back at the church’s long history in social justice causes, taking the commandments of Christ to the daily life of the people. The church faces an uphill battle in today’s society, where it “competes with Netflix, soccer and a re-education of doctrines” that have often tarnished its image, Lindon said.
“These are the stories that we stand on, these are the stories propelling us into the future. This is the slingshot moment of looking back into the past and going into an unknown future,” he said. “As I read the Bible, all I see is the path of inclusion, founded on love of neighbor, something other than your ego. I think that’s what this church has historically stood for.”
“We have to remember that the only thing that changed the world is a small group of committed people,” Lindon said.