NEW PALESTINE — Mary-Jo Shaw remembers how full the little brick church on Mill Street was.
She recalls when worshipers’ cars lined both sides of Mill Street and extended to the parking lot of a local bank at Main Street (U.S. 52) and Bittner Road, a building that is now town hall.
Church leaders bought a house next door to the Mill Street building and turned it into Sunday school rooms, because the church was full.
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“We definitely outgrew that,” Shaw said.
Leaders took action with a plan that culminated in a new building in 1967. On Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, the community is invited to a celebration at the church marking the 50th anniversary of the church building and the 10th anniversary of the Community Ministry Center later added at the east end of the church.
According to church historians, it was around 1957 that church leaders felt God was calling them to move — that they needed more room than that house next door could provide.
The church bought 10 acres in 1964; in 1967, it consecrated a new building at 3565 S. County Road 500W (Gem Road), New Palestine. Forty years later, in 2007, the church dedicated its Community Ministry Center that added more than 19,000 square feet to the 1967 sanctuary and subsequent education wing.
In 1967, the land where the church now sits was an open field. The Rev. Mark Wesler, present-day pastor of the church, said churches in that time had to think about community growth communities and make sure they were located to accommodate it, even if that meant moving away from the heart of town.
“It was a very forward-looking church to even make this decision,” Wesler said.
A similar community focus fueled the decision to pursue building the Community Ministry Center that nearly doubled the church’s size.
“We thought there was so much more we could be bringing to the community,” said Mike Poor, co-chair of the church’s board of trustees and a member of the ministry center building committee. It took some conversations to galvanize support for the plan; building the center took a leap of faith, he said, but “It was the right time.”
Even the Community Ministry Center name was chosen with intentionality, to convey the space would be for the community and not only the congregation, Poor said.
“It was really to focus it outward … looking out, not looking in,” he said.
Scout troops meet there. Doe Creek Middle School’s annual eighth-grade dance takes place in the gymnasium. So do exercise classes each week. Families reserve the facility for bridal showers, anniversary celebrations and funeral dinners.
“It really has become a place where everyone can meet to celebrate life and passing and everything all around us,” said Leah Everett, the church’s office manager.
The Rooted youth group draws middle and high school students that meet weekly. This summer, more than 260 children attended the church’s Vacation Bible School. Each winter, more than 300 children come to the gymnasium as players or cheerleaders in the Upward Basketball program.
Seeing the church filled with children warms the heart of Shaw, whose ancestors were part of the church’s founding in 1830.
She has fond memories of attending the Mill Street site as a child and wants children today to also have faith-filled childhood memories.
“They are our future,” she said. “When I was itty-bitty made the biggest impact.”
Accordingly, the celebration begins with a day of family fun. Everett said as a mother, she appreciates that one of the first made in celebration planning was, “We have to have bouncy houses.”
The festivities continue the next day with the congregation worshiping together in a single service at 10 a.m., instead of three services as on a typical Sunday. Rob Walker, who grew up in the church and has filled in for Wesler before, will speak. Wesler will be the service leader.
As it does each October, the church will observe World Communion Sunday along with congregations around the globe. Communion bread will come in various varieties and colors to celebrate the different people groups who make up the Christian church worldwide.
Organizers want everyone to feel welcome to join in the weekend. Wesler said in addition to announcements at church and the invitation to the community at large, the church has invited the Woodland Terrace senior living community and has mailed 130 letters to former leaders and members. He said he wants those who participate in the weekend to feel good about the role they have played in the history of the church.
Shaw hopes visitors will feel something special and want to come back. Everett has a similar desire for the weekend.
“I hope people take away the fact that we are a community-driven church,” she said. “We would love for them to join us on Sunday and be part of the next 50 years.”
Golden Jubilee Celebration at New Palestine United Methodist Church
2 p.m.: bounce house, bounce obstacle course, bounce gladiator, Kan Jam, putting green, beach volleyball, bubbles
2 to 4 p.m.: Bingo
2 to 3 p.m.: registration for beanbag toss tournament and relay races
3 p.m.: relay races
4 p.m.: beanbag toss tournament
5 p.m.: hog roast pitch-in dinner
6 to 7:30 p.m.: face painting
7:30 to 8:30 p.m.: balloon animals
7:40 p.m.: Quest concert
10 to 11:30 a.m.: combined worship service
11:30 a.m.: cake and punch reception
More information and RSVPs for hog roast are available at www.npumc.com.