WHITESVILLE — Inside the church nestled among crops around the corner from the steel mill, JoElla Haffner spreads out an old quilt stitched with hundreds of names.
The names belonged to the members of a sprawling congregation of farm families who gathered to worship in a small railroad burg where ministry students from Indianapolis were sent to preach.
Years later, the parishioners would move out of the “church by the side of the road” and raise a new steeple a couple of miles away, where Whitesville Christian Church is attracting new families as it marks more than 150 years of history.
“We’re a hub in the community,” said Haffner, the church’s administrative assistant. “We get to be there for people’s entire lives, when they’re sick and grieving.”
The church will celebrate the milestone anniversary, which came last year as most events were halted due to the pandemic, with a worship service, community lunch and children’s activities on Sept. 12. The event is an invitation to the church-at-large, including members who’ve joined other churches, to come together again, senior pastor Andy Schindler said.
“[We want to] kind of have a family reunion atmosphere of it,” Schindler said.
When the community of Whitesville was established in the mid-1800s, it sat about a mile southwest of its present-day site, longtime church member Lois Burkett wrote in a historical account.
A few years later, the settlement was moved to be on the route for the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago Railroad, according to Burkett’s account.
Residents met for church services in the one-room schoolhouse and at worshippers’ homes. In 1870, two elders from Ladoga organized the group as part of the Restoration Movement, which eventually led to the three main Christian church denominations. The first church building was dedicated a decade later.
After the church was struck by lightning and burned in 1937, just a year after being remodeled, members began raising money to rebuild. In 2008, ground was broken on the current building on South Ladoga Road.
“We’re out in a corn field, but when God comes into a place people want to be in His presence,” Schindler said.
Kayla Williamson began attending the church in the old building after meeting her husband, a lifelong member.
“Even though I didn’t know anybody, they just treated me like they knew me forever,” said Williamson, who now serves as the education director.
As the church rebounds from the first waves of the pandemic, Schindler says the family atmosphere, children’s programs and traditional and contemporary worship styles have contributed to the recent growth.
“This is families worshiping together,” Schindler said.