In a society where things seem to come and go, the Wauseon First Church of God has been a constant in the lives of many local Fulton County citizens. On April 25 and 26, the church celebrated their 125th anniversary with a combination of celebrating the past and looking forward to the future. The Wauseon First Church of God is the oldest active Church of God, Anderson, Indiana affiliated, church in the state of Ohio.
The church roots were planted in a grassroots like formation in 1890 as men and women gathered in homes in the Ottokee area for Bible study and prayer. Their desire to gather together and start a Church of God movement in Wauseon, Ohio has spanned generations and has impacted the lives of countless individuals in Wauseon and the surrounding communities. As more people began to join this first gathering of men and women of the church, a permanent structure was needed. In 1911, a church was constructed at the corner of Walnut and North Fulton Streets in Wauseon, the same site where the present day church remains.
Throughout the 125 years, the church has experienced growth, building additions, annual week revivals, and musical celebrations including E.E. Byrum and Barney Warren, hymn writers and Sandi Patty and the Gaithers, contemporary Christian singers. At one time, the baptistery was located in the basement with a raised mirror that allowed those sitting in the first floor sanctuary to observe baptisms. Judy Warncke who has attended the church her entire life was baptized in this baptism with her mother.
Judy has strong ties to the church. Her grandparents John and Ellen Osborne were missionaries from England. Pastor John Osborne became the minister of the church in 1929. During his 29 years of service to the First Church of God in Wauseon, he and his wife were extremely influential in the church’s growth and role within the community. During his tenure, a building committee was formed to upgrade and remodel the original 1911 structure. The floor was raised in the sanctuary, the basement was remodeled, and a new entrance, coat room, and nursery were created. Also, during his time in the pulpit, he discontinued the practice of men and women sitting on opposite sides of the sanctuary so that families could sit together.
The church, nicknamed the “Little Block Church” for the 4 inch block frame structure used in 1929, has housed years of memories for the many people who have called the church their home. Judy recalls, “We met in the sanctuary to sing a chorus and celebrate birthdays. Then, we marched out to Onward Christian Soldiers to Sunday School class.” Jim Figy recalls first attending the church at the age of 3 with his grandmother. He will be 87 this July and continues to be a vital part of the congregation.
The 125th Anniversary Committee Members comprised of Judy Warncke, chair, Jim and Hazel Figy, Sonny Kissle, Diane Roth, Denny Rupp, Tonya Sanders, Pastor Paul Flores, and Bill Hoops (deceased) began planning for the weekend celebration months in advance.
On Saturday, April 25th, a celebration banquet was held at the Hope Center Hall on the premises of Sara’s Garden. Over two hundred people attended the event including those who presently attend, those who formerly attended, former ministers and missionaries, and others with a special connection to the church. A catered dinner was enjoyed along with special music by Pastor Paul Flores and Randy Schantz. Memories from both the old and young alike were shared as people conveyed the important role the church has played in their lives. Reverend Gary Patton, who pastored the church from 1980-1986, delivered an inspirational message of reflections on the past and dreams of the future.
On Sunday, the morning worship service continued the celebration. Dr. Randy Spence, Director of Ministries for the Ohio Ministries of the Church of God, presented Pastor Paul Flores and the congregation a plaque commemorating and honoring the church for their 125 years. He also shared that the average church from birth to death exists 100 years and congratulated the church for not only making it beyond this, but for also remaining a strong and vibrant congregation of both young and old alike. Pastor Paul Flores shared a message challenging his congregation that God will continue to use the church in Wauseon when people step out in faith. After a barbeque lunch, The Needhams, a musical quartet from Murfeesboro, Tennessee, closed out the day’s celebration with a musical blast of joy and praise.
As the 125th celebration events wound down, and the last song was sung, the last cupcakes were eaten, and a handful of attendees lingered and fellowshipped with one another as they cleaned up, a sense of anticipation remained. Jennifer Sanders, a member of the present day youth group, reflected on the weekend and her relationship with the church, “The church is the only church I have ever known, I have grown up here. There are so many people here who have impacted my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe.” The church looks forward to its future, hopeful to continue to impact and influence the lives of local community members 125 more years and beyond.
Tammy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org