FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Saturday, September 23, 2017
 
Our History
 
 
 
          ~ From Methodism in Sparta 1842 – 1992 Sesquicentennial Edition by Judy Nance Cox with selections by Wilma D Kennedy
 
          In 1842 Methodism in Sparta was born. The first quarterly meeting of the Sparta Methodist Episcopal Church took place under the circuit rider services of the Rev. George J Barrett and Elder Phillips. They had no doubt held a protracted meeting and many converts were the result. Daniel H. Hatton was appointed as pastor that first year and reported a membership of 353.
 
          Over the next years the preachers and membership varied as did the salary paid to the minister. In these early years the pastors were appointed for only one year and usually stayed just that one year.
 
Years
Pastor
Interesting Information
1842
Daniel Hatton
Charter Membership 353
1843
Robert E. Guthrie
Declining Membership/ Church in Illinois Conference
1844
Americus Don Carlos
Membership dropped to 170
1845
Thomas Magee
First Black Member
1846
Robert E. Guthrie
Only minister to serve twice
1847
Ruel C. Norton
Membership at 169
1848
Thomas N. M’Corkle
Membership dropped to 138
1849
Daniel Fairbank
Sunday School Started/ 154 Members
1850-51
(no record)
125 Members
1852
Geo. W. Waggoner
Southern Illinois Conference Began
1853
John G. Hardy
Church Library had 400 Books/ 152 Members
1854-56
Charles F. Jay
Descendants in Steeleville/ 87 Members
1857
Thomas C. Lopas
Membership grows to 207
1858
John E. Taylor
Membership drops to 70
1859
R. B. Pierce
Membership at 55
1860
W. G. Moore
Increasing Membership
1861
George W. Hughey
Increasing Membership
1862
Daniel Ogelsby
Gave $185 to Missions/ 118 Members
1863
John Leeper
Individual Mission giving list/ Growing
1864-65
Milo N. Powers
Growing
1866
James P. Dew
A beautiful singer/ Increasing Membership
1867-68
Ranna S. Moore
Built second sanctuary/ Growing
1869
John R. Reef
Parsonage rent $10 a month/ Declining Membership
1870
Charles L. Westman
Salary $350 year/ 40 Members
1871
Charles M. Holliday
 
1872
George W. Butler
 Hosted Lebanon District Conference
1873
C. W. Fred
 
1874
William H. Tyner
Financially so low that the church received $100 in mission support. 
1875
John Wesley Flint
Built third sanctuary
1876-77
Milton P. Wilkin
Library abandoned
1878
A. B. Nesbit
 
1879-80
Charles H. Kirkbride
Pastor Salary $300 
1881
Erastus Lathrop
Acquired first parsonage
1882
W. H. Scott
 
1883-84
C. W. Bonner
Per capita giving first in conference 
1885
C. W. Easterly
Membership below 50
1886
John H. Ford
 
1887-89
Asa Snell
Declining Membership 
1890-91
B. S. Smith
Over paid salary/ Increasing Membership
1892
J. D. Crenshaw
Increasing Membership
1893-94
Josiah L. Cunningham
Sparta with Coulterville
1895-97
Hiram H. Young
Increasing Membership
1898-99
Geo. Andrew Seed
 
1900-02
Melvin Henry Loar
Increasing Membership from 95 -
175 Members 
1903
W. A. Cross
175 Members
1904-06
William W. Edwards
Epworth League (Youth) organized
1907-08
W. H. Gannaway
 
1909-14
John Wiley Webster
Longest ministry thus far/ Increasing Membership 
1915-17
Albert Harris
Remodeled third sanctuary/ Increasing Membership
1918
Thomas J. Haney
Gift of Main St. Sanctuary/ 259 Members
1919-25
C. S. Tritt
Remodeled third sanctuary again/ 569 Members
1925-26
Willard Ira Terhune
Salary reached $2700/ Increasing Membership
1927
William H. McPherson
Decreasing Membership
1928-30
Benjamin H. Batson
 
1931-32
Louis Stevens McKown
573 Members 
1933
Phillip R. Glotfelty
Last one-year minister
1934-37
Herman B. Shoaff
Youth Booth Festivals/ Increasing
Membership
1938-40
Daniel A. Tappmeyer
Became Methodist Church/ Membership 455, but declining
1941-44
Joyce Rue Reid
First lay delegates to conference/ 175 Members
1945-46
Ross Smith
Declining Membership
1947-49
Thomas Strokes
Remodeled third sanctuary again/ 287 Members
1950-53
Milton Q. Connett
Mixed Adult S.S. Classes began/ 470 Members
1954-57
Henry Clay Wright
Built fourth sanctuary/ Declining Membership
1957-60
Gail W. Hines
Repurchased old parsonage
1961-67
Oscar Maerker
Built fourth sanctuary/ 600+ Members
1967-76
Francis (Mike) Michels
Longest pastorate yet/ 488 Members
1976-78
Lloyd Barnard
Received memorial hand bells
1978-83
John W. Grob
Lenten supper parties
1983-88
Ralph Phillippes
Terrible auto accident
1988-95
Gary Scheller
New World Missions
1995-99
Carl Cummins
 
1999 -07
Tom Corum
Built new parsonage/ Remodeled Sanctuary 
2007 -13
Scott Henley
                               
2013 -17   Gary Feldman  The Gathering Room building project
2017 - Jerry Haley  
 
 
The reputation and tradition of this church is most solid in the area of Sunday School.
Methodists of Southern Illinois have always been noted for their interest in education as evidenced by the establishment of McKendree College in 1828. Books were very scarce in the middle of the 19th century in these pioneer towns, but the Sparta Methodist Sunday School established a 100 volume library and gave small books as rewards for memorizing scriptures, or some other accomplishment, as early as 1851.
Sunday School rolls have varied greatly in the history of this church. It seems confusing as to the causes of this, but in 1853 when Sunday School rolls climbed to 95, there were 400 books in the library. 
However during a decline in Sunday School rolls, around 1876, the library had dwindled to 100 books, and in the move to the new frame building the library was abandoned.
For one hundred years there had been no library in this church. With several small memorial gifts it was suggested the church (now in the new building) start a library, and reference books and other materials were ordered. The library was set up in the vacant end of the narthex, but it was dark and in the way of people getting their coats. So when one classroom was given a fourth permanent wall it was enlarged and moved to that classroom where it is today. In addition to reference books for Bible study, the library has interesting biographies of great Christians, devotional readings, youth and children’s books, conference journals, and music reference materials.
 
Each current adult Sunday School class has a rich history and many memories. This church proudly offers five different class opportunities for adults.
 
 
          The first property ever owned by the Methodist congregation was acquired in 1842. This was Lot 1, Block 1 of the Thomas McDill addition to the town of Columbus, the legal description of the area renamed Sparta in 1839. This property is located just north of the cafeteria of the old Lincoln school on St. Louis St and was situated on an east-west street that no longer exists. This street ran between the school and the two churches. The lot was deeded to trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church. A small frame structure, only 32 x 44 was built for a house of worship. It opened to the south and was heated by a fireplace.
          The small frame church meeting house was valued at $1400, according to the Conference Journal of 1852. By 1860, the evaluation of the little sanctuary had dropped to $1000, so perhaps it was needing some repairs or this was only a reflection of the economy.
          Perhaps the decline in membership by 1868 stimulated thoughts for a new sanctuary. The congregation sold their 26-year-old building to the African Methodist Episcopal Church for $2500 on December 1, 1869. After this sale, the Methodists bought the lot to the west of the one just sold and built an imposing brick edifice.
          Justly proud of their new building, the Sparta Congregation hosted the Lebanon District Conference on July 22, 1874. There was still $1500 indebtedness on the new building in 1873.
          In 1876, the Methodists had purchased a new site – Lot 5 of the subdivision of Lot 24 of Armour’s survey of the town of Columbus, now Sparta (the legal description of the property on the corner of St. Louis and College Streets) was deeded to the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church of Sparta on April 9, 1876. The purchase price was $250. They immediately erected a frame sanctuary facing College St. (When the congregation sold the brick building, they paid off a $2000 debt, according to the conference records.)
          For forty years the church had rented a house to be used by the pastor and his family. In 1881 they acquired a parsonage—their first. This house was just east of the church and very convenient for both the pastor and the congregation.
          The building on College Street was first remodeled in 1917. An addition was put on the west side of the church, and the entrance was moved to the corner of St. Louis and College Streets. Expansion included a large classroom on the second floor, a small room in the bell tower and another large room on the sanctuary level. The chancel, which had been in the south end of the sanctuary, was then moved to the east side.
          Also a large basement was put under the new structure for Sunday School classes and a fellowship hall. An interesting story has been told of how John Jay, an active coal mining member of the congregation, felt his knowledge of explosives would facilitate in the removal of dirt in the construction of the new basement. However, he was not as knowledgeable as he thought, for he used too much dynamite and put a hole in the floor of the church as well.
          In addition to the new rooms and space, three large stained glass windows were installed. These were later removed and taken to the new church built fifty years later. (Recently, in 1990, the trustees asked the congregation for donations to restore these windows. They were restored then at a cost of $3600.
          In October of 1918, the church received a most interesting surprise. Mary A. Simpson left to the Methodist Church a lovely frame residence she owned at 310 East Main Street. The only stipulation was that it was to belong to the church as long as it was in existence. This became the parsonage and the small parsonage next to the church was sold.
          Again the need for additional educational space and a larger sanctuary prompted the preparation for another building program in 1923. In seven years the membership had grown from 259 to 569. Sunday School average attendance had grown from 147 to 350. It was very easy to see why the congregation felt the need for more space so soon.
          The size of the sanctuary was again doubled, and a second story educational unit of five large rooms for the children’s and youth departments was added. Dedication services were conducted on June 29, 1924.
          In 1947 the building on the corner of College and St. Louis Streets underwent another remodeling program. With this remodeling the large sanctuary was reduced in size, and the extra space on the main floor was converted into classrooms for the Sunday School and a pastor’s office.
          The sanctuary was also revamped and modernized to accommodate a Kilgen pipe organ given by Mrs. N. G. Stevenson as a memorial for her late husband. The total remodeling cost—including the $6000 organ was $17,552. The presentation of the Church for Rededication was held on November 9, 1947.
          In 1958, after a Sunday School contest which increased the attendance to 400, there began talk of a new church. In 1960 the church repurchased the house next door (old parsonage) for an overflow for children and youth Sunday School classes, leaving more space for adults in the old building.
          In 1954 the condition of the parsonage on Main Street was deemed deplorable. The house was sold and removed from the lot to make way for a new brick, ranch style home. 
          In 1963 land was purchased for a new church sanctuary. In May, 1965 the congregation approved the plans for the new church building. By November 13, 1966 the new sanctuary was ready. The building on the corner of St. Louis and College Streets, the home of the Methodists for ninety years, was sold to the Assembly of God Church on March 1, 1967 for $8,050.
 
          In more recent years the sanctuary has been remodeled, a new parsonage was built on Spartan Drive near the sanctuary, and The Gathering Room and handicapped bathrooms were added.
 
 
 
 There are many examples of the many ways that Sparta First reaches out to those in need in the community, conference, country, and abroad.  But none of this is new.  Methodists in Sparta have always had generous hearts and giving hands.
 
In 1861 the church gave $70.30 to missions.  In 1862 they gave $185 to missions, a real sacrifice for a small congregation in an era when wages were low indeed. The next year mission giving was reported in the conference records with each contributor's name and the amount given.  The gifts ranged from the pastor's $10 to one of 10 cents.  A total of $85.65 was taken to Conference for missions in 1867.
 
This kind of giving and dedication continued throughout the history of this church.  Many of the outreach projects were executed by separate groups such as the youth, women, men, or a Sunday School class.
 
Nearly one hundred year's later, the mission program of the church was augmented by using all the loose offerings during the months with five Sundays for special mission projects.  This offering was to be added to that budgeted and used at the discretion of the missions work area chairperson with the approval of the Council on Ministries.
 
Around 1977, the Council asked Dr. Barnard to inquire about a unit of support for some national mission work.  It took several months to contact the Division of Global Ministries and finally receive the assignment of Dr. Dale and Margaret Robinson at McCurdy Schools in New Mexico, near Espanola.  The church accepted and started one unit of support in March of 1979.
 
Since the beginning of the support of the Robinsons, there had been an interest in the work at McCurdy.  In June of 1980, they paid a visit to the church.  In June of '83, because of health problems, the Robinsons were replaced.  The congregation then took on the support of Maurice and Rhea Bonecutter, a teaching couple in McCurdy.
 
The mission outreach of the church was advanced further when in 1981 Dale and Alice Walker were given to the church for a unit of support.  They were from the Southern Illinois Conference and visited in the summer of '83 with a world of information about their work in Indonesia.
 
March of 1983 saw the final phase of a mission saturation program for the Carbondale District.  The Sparta mission interpreters were from the Rio Grande Conference, a boy's school on the east coast, a new Korean church at Shiloh, and a retired missionary from Siam-Burma.  In the final tallies, the Sparta church gave $400 and ranked fourth in the Carbondale District giving.
 
During the early 1990's when Rev Ed Hoke became the Campsite Manage at Larry Grassy United Methodist Camp, the camp began an adopt-a-cabin program whereby church sponsored the work on a cabin that needed repairs.  Sparta took on this as a mission project, adopting the Galilee Lodge.  Joann Edler coordinated the project with a few women, men, and some youth working on the cabin.  This was also funded as a half unit of mission support in the church budget.
 
During the 1990's the other units of support from the church's budget went to Dale and Alice Walker working in Poland, Perry and Sandry Newberry at Red Bird Conference, and the Eagle House Ministries near Cobden, which was headed by Alan Milligan who was originally from Sparta.  Besides these regular budgeted items, the church actively supported other mission projects as needs arose.
 
In Octobe of 1992, the church gave their share to the Carbondale District Mission Projects.  These projects were the Hispanic Ministry in Cobden and the Korean Congregation in Carbondale.  As a way of learning about one of these, Rev Scheller asked a representative from the Hispanic Ministry to speak to the Sparta church.  These mission needs were also listed as suggestions from the Council for the special Christmas offering.
 
 
By 1923 the church's membership had grown from 259 to 569.  Therefore, it was decided to double the size of the sanctuary and add on five large rooms for the children and youth departments.
 
In 1925 Willard Ira Terhunewas appointed to serve the chuch, which he did for two years.  The church thrived under his direction.  With so many active young people, the Methodist Church with its enlarged sanctuary now in turn hosted the High School Baccalaureate Services.
 
This seemed to be the peak of a time of great prosperity for the Sparta congregation.  The salary had now reached $2700, and the women were giving over $100 to their mission projects.  Te church would not see this pinnacle again for twenty years for economically things began to tighten, then came the crash.  Salaries began to fall, the Sunday School declined, membership stood between 400 and 500 for the next twenty years.
 
Rev L. S. McKown was appointed in 1931 and stayed two years.  Membership climbed to 573 during his ministry, but the records tell us there were 100 on the inactive list.  His salary remained at $2500 and was paid in full.
 
Phillip R. Glotfelty was the next minister.  He was here just one year.  For the first time in twenty-three years the church
 could not meet their obligation to their pastor.  Since Glotfelty received on $2200 of the $2500, the salary for Herman B. Shoaff, the next minister, was reduced to $2000.  It continued to fall until World War II broke out and the economy began an upward swing.
 
The Rev Shoaff tried very hard to  raise the spiritual level of this congregation and increase the membership by calling in outside help from time to time.   The average attendance in morning worship increased from 185 to 210 during his pastorate.  The national economy was reflected in all the financial aspects of the church.  In December of 1934, Dr. E. C. Wright, a noted Bible lecturer, held services for a week in the Sparta Church.  The lectures were accompanied by pictures of the Holy Land and other Bible lands.
 
In October of 1935, Miss Mary Olive, affectionately known as "Little Mary"; and Miss Mae Paul, a sweet singr of the gospel, conducted a revival.  "Little Mary", a remarkable lady preacher, was reared in a small mining camp and was quite a contrast to the stately, prim Miss Paul, whose background was a fashionable home with good musical training.  An offering of $175.26 was given to the two women for their three weeks work.
 
In April, Sparta hosted the annual District Conference.  This conference lasted two days.  Many of the homes were opened tothe ministers who needed over-night lodging and breakfast.
 
Daniel A. Tappmeyer came into the Suthern Illinois Conference from the German Methodist Conference with the unification of these two groups of Methodists in 1926.  He was appointed pastor to the Sparta congregation in 1938.
 
In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church unitd to form a new church known simply as the Methodist Church.  This union affected the Sparta congregation very little.
 
During this time there is the first record of Sparta sending a lay delegate to Annual Conference in the person of Mrs. N. G. Stevenson.  She continued in this capacity from 1941 to 1950.  (Currently, two laay delegates represent each church at Conference).
 
Church membership climbed wll above the 500 mark until the rolls were pruned of "dead wood."  When Tappmeyer left, the membership was reported at 455.
 
In 1941 Joyce Rue Reid came to pastor the Sparta congregation.  He was the pastor during the turbulent years of World War II and ministered to many families who sent their ons and daughters to serve in the armed forces.  Among those who paid the supreme sacrifice were Clifford Heaton, son of Ival and Aletha Heaton; Myrl McDonald, so of C.H. and Ruby McDonald; James Mathewson, nephew and foster son of Kenneth and Prudence Bert; John Loveland, brother of Marie Rust; Edward Haney, son of Rosa Haney; and Freddie Dains, son of Hattie Dains (Miller).
 
While in Sparta, Reid too suffered a great sorrow, for he lost his wife who had been his companion and co-worker for thirty-two years (since he was 17).  When he married Mae Fair Talbert, a Sparta lady, it was thought best for him and his ministry to move to another work.
 
 
In the mid 1940's the financial side of the church began to swing upward, but more importnatly, a time of spiritual awareness was evident.  The average church attendance was 175 by the end of Rev J. R. Reid's ministry.  The pastor's salary which had dropped  to $1000 during the pastorate of Tappmeyer began its upward climb of $200 to $300 a year for the next few years.
 
Ross Smith served the Sparta congregation for the next two years beginning in 1945.  Membership was steady as it had been for the past fifteen years, but worship attendance dropped as it did all over the nation when the war was over.
 
The first year of Thomas Strokes' pastorate, the membership rolls were carefully studied and updated, removing those names of persons who had died, joined other churches, or those whose whereabouts were unkown.  Of 191 names removed, some were by transfer, others by action of the quarterly conference.  The rest were put on an inactive list.  This left an active membership of 287 with an average attendance of 185.
 
During the pastorate of Milton Connett (1950-54), the midweek prayer service reached an average attendance of 50, the average attendance of the Sunday morning service was just at the 200 mark, the Sunday evening evangelistic services often passed 100.  No longer could there be two lists of members, so the inactive were restored to the membership rolls making a total of 470 when Connett left.
 
In 1954 the membeship passed the 500 mark, but attendance was down.  The midweek prayer meeting was struggling along with aout 35 attending.  Sunday night attendance had drpped to 75.  during Clay Wright's ministry, the slaary increasted from $3700 to $4700 in the four year period.
 
In November, 1957, Rev Wright was suddenly exchanged with Gail Hines ofMurphysboro.  Gail Hines was a retired chaplain.  The average attendance for worship was well ovr 200.  However, prayer meeting duirng the mid-week continued to drop as well as the Sunday evening service.  The pastor's salary was now $4700.
 
Oscar Maerker was appointed to the Sparta church in 1961.  During his ministry, the membership reached an all time high, pasing the 600 mark.  Sunday School attendance continued around 250, and average attendance in morning worship was slightly over 200.  With the nation's economy in a spiraling inflation, the salary increased $2300 in six years.
 
Maerker suffered a heart attack in December 1966  and was unable to fill the pulpit for several months.  Mos of the time the pulpit was filled by a retired minister of Marissa, Harold Y Slaten.  Maerker's incapacitation made it necessary for him to take a lighter charge at Conference in 1967.
 
Francis (Mike) Michels was sent to serve the Sparta church in June.  With over 600 reported as members, it was costing the church a tremendous figure in apportionments.  A committee was appointed to check the rolls carefully.  By actual count only 490 names could be found.  The committee tn began a systematic contact of all those who either had not attended services or contributed within the past three years.  Some could not be located, others had joined other churches, a few had died and their names had not been removed (By 1970 the more accurate membership was established at 488).
 
It was in 1969 that the Methodist Churc and the Evngelical United Brethren united to form the United Methodist Church.  This affected the structure of the Conference and meant some adjustment to change.
 
During the pastorate of Michels, the church reached a new awareness of Christian love within the church community.  An old fashioned revival with Joseph Brookshire was held in the fall of 1970.  Brookshire not only preached each night, but brought a gospel message in song.  Several other singing groups also assisted.
 
At Conference in June 1978, John Grob was appointed to serve the Sparta congregation.  In September the mid-week Prayer and Praise service was attempted after eight or nine years without one.  The general finances had been lagging for everal months.  This prompted the Finance Committee to suggest a fall crusade with some outside help.  This was completed in October netting a result of $72,000 for the budget for 1979.
 
Near the end of 1978, the church purchased a used van to see it a church van would be profitable for a church this size.  After its use for two and a half years, it was decided it was used enough to warrant a new van which was purchased in June 1981.
 
The new year opened the Sparta church hosting the Lay Speakers School for the Carbondale District.  There were about eighteen participants with over helf from the local church.  These lay speakers have been used in various capacities in the local church, community and district.  For several yeras they conducted all the United Methodist services at the two local nursing homes.
 
February of 1979 ended with a terrible sleet storm, and for the first time anyone could remember, church services were canceled because no one could get to church.   In 1982 at the beginning of February a snow blizzard again forced the cancellation of services.
 
In the spring of 1980, it was suggested two worship services be held duringthe summer months to accommodate those who would be going out of twon for the day.  It was thought more would attend services.  By 1983 the summer attendance was up to an average of 200.
 
On July 4, 1982, the first annual homecoming was held.  It was repeated in '83, and special guests were the Walkers, missionaries in Indonesia.  After a time in the Sunday School and speaking in the morning worship, they were on hand at the basket dinner to answer questions.
 
In 1983 John and Connie Grob moved on to Marion First, and Ralph and Nina Phillipee moved in.  Attandance climbed above 200 average and stayed close to that until bad weather hit the area at Christmas time.  In September the Phillippes were in a terrible auto accident leaving Nina unable to be out for five months.
 
In the fall of 1983, a Life-Style Stewardship program proved to be a tremendous asset to the members who were challeged by their participation.  Several who hda dropped by the wayside rejoined the ranks, and new persons were brought into the fold.
 
Around Conference time of 1988, Rev Phillippe was struggling with keeping up with his pastorate and taking his wife to St. ouis for medical visits.  However, it was too late for a new appointment by then.  The congregation was then surprised when in November there was a sudden move.  Phillippee was transferred to Carlyle, a smaller charge located near St Louis.  Phillippe's replacement here was the pastor who had been at Carlyle, Gary Scheller.
 
It was around this time that a few members of the congregation called to the church's attention the financial problems that had gradually arisen ovr several years but could no longer be overlooked.  Several large givers had died or retired.  Basically, the problem was that spending was up and giving was down.  This became a controversial issue at several meetings because of disagreements on how to handle the situation.  Through diligent work and awareness, the problem gradually improved.
 
Rev Scheller and Evangelism Chairman Paul Calvert executed an interesting Fall evangelism emphasis in September of 1991.  The plan was to have former members of the local churchwho are in full time Christian service to return to give their witness as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Those who spoke were Betty Coffey, Alan Milligan, Paul Copeland, and Bud Bennett.  "It was a great spiritual time for me." stated Virginia Ogles.
 
During 1992 the church celebrated its Sesquicentennial.  Throughout the year, Marcella Henderson (Sesquicentennial Chairperson) had included a bit history in each Lamplighter newsletter.  She had asked a different person each month to write about their church memories.  This celebration was culminated on Sunday, July 19.  This day was promoted as Sesquicentennial Sunday.  After a special old fashioned worship service, the congregation enjoyed a dinner, program, fellowship, and games.
 
 
Today our youth have opportunities to be involved with youth programs, not only in the local church, but at conference and national level.  The intricate structure of United Methodism was not always there though.  The youth of today are certain lucky, but yesterday's youth had their own commitment and enthusiasm which built the foundation for today's programs.
 
During the earliest years, the young people's organization had various names.  In 1889 all the groups of youth consolidated into one body, choosing the name of Epworth League.  Throughout the conference the Epworth League was hailed as an excellent means of training and fellowship for all ages of youth and young adults.
 
The local League received its charter from the Lebanon District of the Southern Illinois Conference on February 13, 1907.  Their motto was "LOOK UP, LIFT UP."  Their colors were gold and blue.  The first conference report of the Epworth League in the Sparta Church was in 1908 with 52 enrolled in the Senior League and 83 in the Junior League.
 
The Senior Epworth League, which fluctuated yearly, reached an all time high of 65 during 1925.  During the early part of the thirties, the Senior Epworth League was holding steady, but the Junior League ranged between 30 and 40.
 
In the fall of 1934, the Epworth League Booth Festival was held in Sparta.  A Booth Festival was an annual gathering of fruits and vegetables, clothing, linens, other useful items, and cash for the "Old Folk's Home" at Lawrenceville, the Children's Home at Mt. Vernon, Holden Hospital at Carbondale, and McKendree College in Lebanon.  The items were divided among the four institutions taking into account the suitability of each article.
 
The League continued with varying degrees of strength until the union of the three churches.  (In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church united to form a new church known simply as the Methodist Church.)  A new organization known as the Methodist Youth Fellowship, or MYF for short, was formed.  The group chose as a motto "CHRIST ABOVE ALL."
 
The MYF was active under the lay leadership of Mrs. Maude Rodenburg.  The youth participated in monthly sub-group meetings and had a large number to go to the Youth Institute at the Beulah Campground at Eldorado in 1940 and 1941.
 
These years were a time of spiritual awareness, especially among the youth.  They attended mid-winter week-end institutes and the week long Institute at Eldorado.  The week of classes and strong evangelistic evening services brought many into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Thirty-two of these youth were brought into membership of the church.
 
In the early fifties, the MYF had about 25 in their Sunday night study group.  By the late fifties, the youth were holding right at 30.
 
In the winter of 1965, the church first assisted three youth to go to the United Nations/ Washington, D.C. Seminar sponsored by the Conference.  This has become a tradition, but currently the trip is taken in the summer, alternating between New York City and Washington, D.C. each year.
 
With the unification of the Methodist Church and the United Brethren Church in 1968, the name of the youth group was changed to United Methodist Youth Fellowship (UMYF) but was sometimes called UMY.
 
In the summer of 1979 one of the first local summer youth trips was taken.  It was a short, fun trip to Chicago, sponsored by Gary and Judy Cox who had just moved here from Chicago the year before.  The Coxes drove the first church van.
 
During the summer of 1980 and again in 1981, Lori Trost was hired to assist with the youth in their program.  In the summer of '80, the youth went to McCurdy to participate in a work program.  In the summer of '81 the youth took a trip to Colorado.
 
In 1982 two high school graduates were hired to help with the summer youth program.  That summer, along with Carl and Sharon Holland, they went to the Worl'd Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.
 
At about this time Pam Seals served in some Conference and national positions during her years in the UMYF.  Pam is the only youth from Sparta to become President of the Southern Illinois CCYM (Conference Council on Youth Ministry).  Also, from 1983 to 1985, Pam served on the Steering Committee for NYMO (National Youth Ministry Organization).  This meant that she traveled to Nashville by plane several times for meetings to plan the next National Youth Ministry Convocation which is held every two years.
 
During the sponsorship of Mary Jo and Jerry Juenger, the UMY continued to grow.  Summer help was no longer hired as the Juengers sponsored the next two trips.  The first one was to Eureka Springs, Arkansas in '84.  Then in '85, the senior highs went to Gulf Shores, Alabama.
 
The following summer a handful of senior highs went on a work trip to a mission in California.  Janet and Roger Gerlach were the sponsors for this trip.
 
The next trip, during the summer of '88, was a work trip followed by some fun days in the Rockies.  The work portion of the trip was in the Black Hills of South Dakota, where the youth worked on a timber improvement project of the United Methodist Camp there.  The youth and several sponsors worked hard cutting trees and burning.
 
No trip was taken in 1989, but under the leadership of Joann Edler as youth coordinator and Rev. Gary Scheller, there were two fun trips taken the following two summers.  First, the youth traveled to Eureka Springs, Arkansas and Branson, Missouri.  There they saw a Passion Play and enjoyed camping together.  The second trip was to Nashville, Tennessee where they visited United Methodist offices and buildlings, such as UMCOM and the Upper Room.  They also enjoyed sightseeing in Nashville.  Although these were not work trips, youth had to earn points toward the cost of the trip by working on local service projects and attending youth events.
 
Due to lack of interest, the work trip for the summer of '92 was canceled.  However, after taking a summer off, the youth set a goal for a work trip to Tennessee or Florida for the summer of 1993.
 
Over the past fifteen years, some of the youth sponsors and coordinators have been:  Jan Seals, Gary and Judy Cox, Pam and John Baker, Kathy and Kenneth Robinson, Carl and Sharon Holland, Mary Jo and Jerry Juenger, Janet and Roger Gerlach, Joann Edler, Larry Schupbach, Mary Hauskin, and Pam Hass.
 
Over many years the Junior and senior highs from Sparta had been especially active in the camping program.  Although the youth had formerly gone to Beulah Institute as far back as 1940, in the 1990s involvement was with Aldersgate Youth Institute at the Little Grassy campsite near Makanda.  At least a van load of youth attended each year with the usual procedure being extra vehicles for the luggage and the overload of campers.  Not only youth attended.  Joann Edler, Jan Seals, Rev. "Mike" Michels, Gary and Judy Cox, Rev John Grob, Rev Gary Scheller, Patty Kohne, John Radliff, Cindy Bruno, and Dorothy Heuman are some of the adult counselors from Sparta that have attended.  The growth in this camping program is large due to expansion of the junior camps which teaches youngsters to enjoy the camping experience.  By the time they get into UMY, the campers are usually "hooked" on camping.  Some yough are known to make huge sacrifices in order to attend Aldersgate.  Asbury Camp, a new junior and senior high camp as of 1992, drew one youth from Sparta, Janine Heuman.
 
Besides the camping program, Sparta youth are typically involved in annual District and Conference level events such as retreats, rallies, and YAK (Youth Annual Konference) held at the Ramada Inn in Mt. Vernon each February.  At Youth annual Konference each year the church giving the most to the Youth Service Fund is honored.  Sparta usually came in first or second place for total or per capita giving.  (Youth Service Fund is a United Methodist mission organization supported by youth).
 
 
The Methodist women of Sparta have a devoted history of mission and outreach.  There have been struggles in recent years with dwinding interest especially from te younger women.  Some may feel the idea of UMW is outdated; however, helping others will never be outdated.
 
Before the end of the nineteenth century, a group of ladies of the church organized a Ladies Aid Society to assist in a small way in the finances of the church.  This group did a great deal then and in the days of the Great Depression of the 1930's in paying the meager salaries of the pastors.
 
A Woman's Home Missionary Society was organized on January 2, 1919 at the home of Mrs. N. G. Stevenson.  The organizational meeting was held at the close of a Ladies' Aid Meeting.  There were seventen charter members.  They elected as officers Mrs. T. J. Haney, President; Mrs. C. R. Duncan, Vice-President; Mrs. A. D. Carr, Recording-Secretary; Mrs. E. O. Bottenfield, Correspondence-Secretary; and Mrs. C. S. Henley, Treasurer.  The conference Woman's Home Missionary Society had as projects, aid to the Holden Hospital in Carbondale and a Slavonic Settlement House in East St. Louis.
 
(With changing times, Holden was sold in later years.  Funds from this sale were put in trust until the Methodist Village, in dire need of funds to refurbish the mai portion of their facilities, were given them on one condition - the portion restord would be named, "The Carrie Holden Center" in memory of the one who had given money for the hospital.  The Settlement House became the Leslie Bates Davis Neighborhood House with a ministry to the blacks who had moved into East St. Louis.)
 
The Queen Esther Circle was organized May 23, 1919, with twenty-seven members.  This group of young ladies, who were somewhat of an auxilliary to the Home Missionary Society, was organize to develop an interest in missions.  Elected officers were: June McGuire, Pesident, Pearl Hill, Vice-President; Fern McGuire and Fay Cox, Recording Secretaries; Alice Hood, Correspondence Secretary; Irene Tate, Treasurer;Flo Lehnheer, Mite-Box Secretary; Geraldine Lively, Temperance Secretary, Ruth Jay, Literature Secretry; and Almira McKinney, Hola Southworth and Nellie Kelly, Program Committee.
 
During the Great Depression of the 1930's, the ladies of the church made chicken 'n' dumpling dinners which they sold to the people of the community for 25 cents each Wednesday.
 
The district meeting of the Woman's Home Missionary Socety was held i the local church on May 21, 1935.  On June 7 that same year a Passion Play, with background scenes taken in the Holy Land ad shown on a screen, was presented to the congregation.
 
In May of 1936, a Mother-Daughter Banquet was held with ninety-five persons attending, and a special Mother's Day Program was presented the following Sunday.  At thisi time flowers were given to mothers with special distinctions.
 
After the union of the three churches in 1939, which formed the Methodist Church, the Ladies' Aid and the Woman's Home Missionary Society merged into the Woman's Society of Christian Service, commonly known as WSCS.  Mrs. Marie Misselhorn, daughter of C.S.  Tritt was the first president.
 
By the spring of 1953, the Wesleyn Service Guild was formed.  There were twenty-nine charter members with Fay Koenegstein as the first president.  This organization was composed primarily of employed women and younger women who could meet more easily at night.  Their  purpose and goals were much the same as those of the WSCS.  They participated in the Fourth Conference Guild Weekend at McKendree College.  They hosted the District meeting that November.  In the spring they took charge of the local Red Cross Drive.  In May of 1955, the ladies sponsored the Mother-Daughter Banquet.  For wenty years the WSG worked closely with the WSCS providing funds for missions and cooperating in programs.
 
With the emergence of the United Methodist Church, the WSCS and the WSG, having the same goals and interests, merged into a new organation o the United Methodist Women with Jessie Sanders as the first president.
 
UMW presidents for the last fifteen years have been:  Mae Baue (1977), Donna Woody (1978) ,Elaine Hargis (1979-1981), Janet Treece (1982-1984), Naomi Davidso (1985-1988), Elaine Hargis (1989-1990), Marcella Henderson (Presiding 1991 - no president elected), Virginia Ogles (1992-1993).
 
Over the years of the United Methodist Women, the Sparta church has had separate subgroups.  These were Dorcas, Ruth and Martha.  (Currently, the Dorcas subgroup meets on the third Tuesday evening of the month, and the Martha subgroup meets the second Wednesday morning of the month.
 
In 1976 a new subgroup for younger women was started by Sue Pirtle, Wanda Gray, and Judy Bennett.  Most of the group consisted of working women so the group met in the evenins. (The only other subgroup to do this was the Dorcas group.)  This new group named itself the G.I.R.L. group which stood fr Growth in Religious Life.  Attendance at GIRL gorup was quite good for the first few years, but then the group struggled.
 
In the late 1970's, the UMW sponsored the first Church Bazaar which was chaired by Sue Pirtle and Wanda Gray.  That first year everything was in the fellowship hall, and it was a huge success. "The second year was even better," stated Sue Pirtle.  There was a bazaar held in the fall for each year thereafter, until 1992.  No one volunteered to chair the project in '92, so it was not held.
 
The active women in the GIRL subgroup had dwindled down to about half a dozen.  For a few years, these women tried to keep the group going and even caused an enthusiastic spurt for about a year.  The possibility of disbanding had motivated the members for awhile, but then again about a year later, attendance waned.  Finally after several years of frustration, those members still semi-active decided to officially disband the GIRL subgroup in 1990.
 
The local UMW group as well as several UMW's from other churches have gone through a real struggle period the last several years.  Those involved in UMW are sincerely concerned and afraid of UMW dying out once they are gone.  They have expressed their worries and frustrations during several of the Council on Ministries meetings.  hat des this mean fo their future?  Their contribution to missions cannot be overlooked as a valid reason for the continution of this group.
 
On United Methodist Women's Sunday in November of '92, Charlotte Massie gave a warm welcome to invite other women to UMW.  On a note of hope, a meeting in early December was held to organize a new subgroup for younger women.  The local UMW Presient, Virginia Ogles, has ben very receptive to the issues of younger women and will support this new group with enthusiasm.  Since there are currently only two active subgroups, this new hope for a younger group shines a brighter light on the future of the UMW.
 
 
Poor man's lobster.  Hot chili.  Pancakes and sausage.  Is this all the Methodist Men ever do - eat?  Not really.  There are many small and large missions of mercy they perform quietly.  Humble though they be, they have certainly made a difference in the lives of those in need.  And they certainly know how to entertain and feed.
 
 
 The local group of United Methodist Men began meeting in the 1980's during te ministry of Ralph Phillippe.  The presidents over those years have been Brooks Gordon, Tom Seals, and Carl Holland.
 
The UMM have been involved in several local outreach projects including repair jobs on houses of those who are shut-ins or in need of assistance.  Also, the UMM has helped out financially with the utility bills of those who could not pay.
 
Besides the hard work, the me have enjoyed themselves as they have served others.  One of their annual events that serves both of these purposes is their Christmas caroling to the shut-ins.  The evening is usually topped off by some hot chili.
 
One year the UMM hosted the Mother-Daughter Banquet and served the women and girls of the church which allowed for a more enjoyable evening for them.
 
In addition to these worthy causes, the men have helped to entertain couples and adults by sponsoring an annual Sweetheart Banquet on Valentine's Day.  (In an attempt to be sensitive to the single adults, this has sometimes been called the Valentine's Banquet.)  These evently evenings are usually held at a local restaurant and are full of visiting and light entertainment.  The first year couples shared how they met and photographs were taken of each couple in a cut-out heart frame.  Last year the "Clean Ladges" Quartet sang some entertaining songs.  That group consisted of Gary Cox, Tom Seals, Ken Gilmore, and Robb Hass.  This evening of fellowship is well attended and enjoyed by all.
 
Some of the United Methodist Men have become involved on the District and Conference levels as well.
 
 
Two of the charter members of Methodism in Sparta were John Wilson McCormack and his wife, Temperance Sullivan McCormack.  In 1837 they had married inTennessee and came to Sparta in 1842.  John McCormack was gifted with a fine voice and a love of music.  He did much for the church as its choir leader for many yeras.
 
In the summer of 1936 the church purchased the new 1935 edition of the hymnal which was the official hymnal of the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South; and the Methodist Protestant Church.  This hymnal anticipated a erger four years hence.
 
rs. Steve Mitchell, the current pianist, bevcame the first organist and played until her death in 1958.  Louise Massie, a high school student, played for the next two to three years.  Evelyn Moody was organist for about six months.  Janice Lilienkamp also played for awhile until Mary RuthBierman became the regular organist in 1962.  Between 1971 and 1975, Marcia Moulden assisted at the console.  Lori Trost then was the assistant until she left fo college.  When Mary Ruth had serious surgery in 1982, Mary Jo Juenger played for services, first at the piano and then at the organ.  Currently, Mary Jo and Mary Ruth serve as organists, and Wandene Williams and Shirley Trost serve as pianists, with Jennifer Taylor occasionally substituting.
In 1965, the choir purchased stoles to conform with the liturgical colors and began wearing them in December.
 
During the ministry of Dr. Barnard, the Been family wished to present a memorial gift for Kenneth Been.  The gift chosen was a three octave set of Schulmerick hand bells.  In preparation for the receipt of the gift, a hand bel choir from Mascoutah presented a beautiful concert one Sunday evening.  Lori Trost was asked to direct the hand bell choir, and an interested number of youth joined.  When ther interest waned, some of the adults who wanted this gift used, not stored, took up the playing of the bells.  The Been Memorial Bell Choir was directed for several yeras by Tenley Smith.  The choir disbandd in the late 1980's due to not enough members to play all the octaves.  But occasionally Tenly Smith performs the awsome task o a bell special where she plays several of the bells by herself.  Currently, Tenley is trying to renew intrest in Bell Choir.
 
The Adult Choir has a long tradition of beautiful music under the leadership of some fine directors.  Ruby Redpath directed the adult choir for 27 or 28 yeras.  Her daughter, Cindy Sickmeyer, can remember tagging along as young as seven or eight years of age.  Near her retirement from the choir, due to illness, they had a twenty-fifth anniversary party for her.  Ruby started the tradition of a Christmas cantata each year.
 
In the mid 1980's Gary Cox became the Choir Director, replacing Ruby Redpath.  Gary hd been a faithul tenor under Ruby's direction and had filled in as acting director during her illness.  After her death, the change was a permanent one.
 
Some of the highlights under Director Gary Cox have been singng at Annual Conference and performing cantatas with another choir at Christmas.  The first joint cantata was with the Lebanon First UMC Choir, and the second was with the Chester First UMC Choir.  During these joint undertakings the cantata would be performed twice, once at Sparta and another time at the other church.  The Choir reunited to sing at Conference with the Lebanon Choir the May after their Christmas cantata.
 
Most recently, the Adult Choir is proud of being asked to perform at theAdvent Renewal Service for the Carbondale District.  This service was held st the Pinckneyville United Methodist Churc on December 12.  The District Supertendent made this request after hearing the choir sing at the Carbondale District Laity Rally.
 
In the late 1980's, the Music Council recommended to the Council on Ministries that the new United Methodist hmnals be purchased.  (These wo,  uld be the first ever United Methodist hymnals, as prior to 1969 they were Methodist hymnals.)  The Council approved, but the major obstacle to overcome was the cost.  If the hymnals were ordered early, they would be cheaper, but the expense was not the current year's budget.  The decision was taken to the Administrative Board with the suggestion to offer individuals the opportunity to purchase a hymnal for the church in honor or memory of someone.  The Administrative Board approved of the immediate purchase at the cheaper price, hoping that individuals would indeed come through in their support.  They did and one anonymous member donated $500 toward the project.  The memorial fund rounded out the remaining amount.  Dedication Sunday for the new hymnals was October 22, 1989.
 
The new hymnals, once here, became sometimes controversial.  While there were many of the old hymns, there were also several new hymns.  In addition, there were psalters with musical responses that the congregation struggled through at first.  However, Rev. Scheller and Choir Dirctor Gary Cox have kept nudging the congregation and choir to learn the new hymns.  After all, "How Great Thou Art" was once a new song, and so was "Amazing Grace".  The best solution to the psalters was for Gary Cox to alwayshead them, singing it first himself, then having the congregation sing along.  His leadership with this has  helped greatly.
 
In 1991 Mary Hauskins began a group of grade school age children on Wednesdays after school.  After singing for about a year, they decided to name themselves the Sonbeams.  The Sonbeams performed a fll length program the first Sunday in Novembr of 1992.  They wore their new Sonbeams sweatshirts and donations were accepted afterwards, during refreshmnts.  The program was well attended not just by parents, but by all church members.  Shirley Trost is the accompanist for the Sonbeams.  Th Sonbeams usually perform during the Sunday morning worship on the first Sunday of each month.
 
 
As the times change, so the church must change.  But where does it end?  Some feel that people should be committed no matter what, and the church should never change.  Idealistic.  But realistic?
 
During the 1992 season of Lent, Rev Muriel Nance of the Conference office presented two workshops based on the Callahan methods.  This caused the Council on Ministries to take a serious look at the validity of its programs.  No matter on which side of the controversy, one must admit that the new and creative programs do enrich our spirtual lives.  But are they all that new?  Taking a look at the history of Sparta Methodists, one finds that they have been enriching their orship services and program for many years.
 
In the spring of 1956, a memorable and spectacular Easter service was held.  All the furniture in the chancel was draped in white, including white curtains across the back on which was fastened a large mura of Mary and Jesus in the garden on resurrection morning.  The space between the choir and the communion rail was banked with 40-50 pots of Easter lilies, tied with royal purple ribbons, in memory of departed loved ones.
 
One of the most often talked of special programs was on November 13, 1966.  Th new sanctuary was ready for an impressive service of "Exodus and Entry".  he service was begun at the old church.  The members of the Board of Trustees took the Bible, the altar pieces, the communion service, and the flags.  They then followed Rev Maerker down the aisle.  The choir followed the Trustees,and the congregation concluded the procession up St. Louis Street to the new sanctuary where service of praise was completed.
 
In 1971 the evangelism work area implemented a new program which was sweeping the country, known as "Lay Witness Mission".  Approximately thirty lay persons from various areas in the mid-west came to assist indivuals in discovering a new relationship in Christ.  The second phase in 1972.  Discipline and Discovery, organized much the same as Lay Witness but with local laity only, led the people into a eeper relationship with Christ.  In 1975 there was a return to the Lay Witness program which gave those who had not participated in the first effort, a chance to experience the joy others had found in '71.
 
A very unique service was held on Laity Sunday in 1975.  As the congregation gathered for worship, there were no lights in the sanctuary, no organist on the bench, no choir in its usual place, and the minister could not be found.  Finally, the lay leader, Virgil Runge, ook charge.  The lights were turned, a pianist called forward, and the worship service began.  The message was "extemporaneous" by Charles (Chuck) Trent.  It had been planned to look as though nobody was on hand to do these jobs.  The general message was that others depend on those chosen for these areas of service, but it is everyone's duty to see that the work of the Kingdom goes on.
 
Great plans were for the Bicentennial year of 1976.  On February 29, time was moved back 200 years for a service of the type a Methodist Society would have held, except for the length of the sermon, which was reduced to 25-30 monutes instead of two hours.
 
On July 4 of the same year, a Bicentennial Celebration (with a service much like those of a century ago) was held.  The congregation participated by  dressing in period costumes.  Th service was followed by an old-fashioned basket dinner on the church lawn under the trees.
 
In September 1977 the work area of evangelism invited R.Paul Sims, Administrative Assistant to the Bishop, to come to Sparta for an evangelistic weekend.  Dr. Sims was given the liberty to organize the program as he saw best and he started with a Thrsday night supper and discussion session.  This was followed by preaching services on Friday and Saturday nights nd on Sunday mrning.  On Saturday afternoon there was an open session with the leaders of the congregation who were seeking answers to a number of questions that had arisen in the past year.  The weekend closed with a Sunday night evaluation and testimony service.  It had been a weekend of spirtual uplift and renewal.
 
In the spring of 1979, a Lenten devotional booklet was printed.  Current members, former members, and pastors were asked to write a devotional on a given scripture which had been selected for each day of Lent.  Since then, this project has been repeated in other years.  One devotion in the loca project (written by Judy Cox) later appeared in September/ October 1992 issue of The Upper Room.
 
Family Retrets (later called the Church Retreat to be inclusive of singles) have been held at Little Grassy Camp almost anually for the last several years.  "I enjyed the family retreat where we relaxed, shared, and got to know fellow members better," said Joann Elder.  Some of the retreat programs have been led by outside resources such as Rev Melody Brawley, and others have been led by members of the church, like the last retreat organized and led by Carol Ashley.
 
One of the most innovative programs of the church is the singesl ministry.  A singles support group for all ages began in the 1980's led by Jan and Tom Seals.  Jan had previously been working with the youth and decided to mvoe on to another area of need.  She had noticed a gap in the ministry of the church and set out to see that it was met.
 
Over the last decad the faces in this group of single adults have changed, but the leadership of this ministry has remained the same.  (Jan has even expanded her work in this area to the Conference level as a leader in the singles ministry of the Southern Illinois Conference.)  Jan and Tom spend every Wednesday evening withthis group together in the fellowship hall.  Another person who is signficant in the singles mnistry is Dorothy Pickett, who cooks for the group.  Several members of the congregation voluntarily bring desserts also.
 
Many of the singles who have been a part of this group have not been members of our church.  They attend the Wednesday Singles group here, either because their churches do not offer a singles support group or because they do not belong to a church.  Some of these singels have ended up joining or attending our church.
 
One of the significant contributions to programming made by Rev Gary Scheller has been the New World Mission.  The Sparta congregation was not familiar with New World Mission, but Rev Scheller had been involved in one previous to his ministry here.  He felt it to be a valid and inspirational method of evangelism.  The Methodists here would strongly agree, as they have been touched twice by this program.
 
This program brings an evangelist from another country to our congregation for a week.  An evangelist comes in mission to us instead of the traditional way that american Christians have of sending missionaries abroad.  These New World Missions have been real eye-openers for the Sparta congregation as members have become involved in the libes of these evangelists and have learned about the ways of their countries.
 
The first New World Mission was March 18-22, 1990.  The congregation fell in love with Rev. Levi Williams of Liberia.  Members were touched by his testimony and personality.  His first hand account of the war and consequent tragedies going on in his country and with his family made participants realize just how lucky they were to be living in a free, democratic country.  After the New Worl Mission, church members kept in touch with Pastor Levi through letters and visits.
 
Two years later (March 29- April 2, 1992), the Rev. William Robertson of Ipswich, England led the church's second New World Mission.  This program, too, was a big success.  Some families also kept in touch with Rev. Robertson.  One of the favorite aspects of the New World Mission is the chatback, held after the evening service.  This gave members an opportunity to get to know the evangelists.
 
During the 1990's  a new approach to programs was evident in the change of the early Advent program.  For many years previous the church had hosted the Hanging of the Greens on the first Sunday evening in Advent.  At this event the Sunday School classes were supposed to decorate their rooms and sandwiches were served.  After evaluating the low attendance, the Council on Ministries decided that few were coming because it was considered a drudgery.  So a new approach was taken - make it fun!
 
"My favorite church event the past couple of years has been the Advent gatherings.  The talent shows of the Sunday School classes has made me laugh and also get into the Christmas spirit with the music and such," stated Cindy Sickmeyer.
 
The Advent Gatherings in the 90's are evenings of light entertainment - everything from funny skits to satirical songs.  One favorite was the "Normon Goof off Choir" skit performed by the CUC class at the first Advent Gathering.  The class did a lip-sync routine to a song by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Also, the ever-popular Cotton Koenegstein recites an enjoyable poem each year.  Besides light entertainment, the supper meal is partially provided making it easier for most busy people to attend and enjoy a meal and fellowship with their Christian friends.
 
While Covenant Discipleship is not a new concept, these groups formed in 1991 and 1992:  Sunday Morning "Branch Group" of senior high youth and Wednesday evening Covenant Discipleship group consisting of six adults.  These groups have a written covenant that they try to the best of their ability to keep.  The members support one another in love as through the example of John Wesley's weekly class groups that met in people's homes.
 
In 1992 the Council on Ministries began exploring ideas for stewardship of the environment.  Individuals had brought some concerns to the Council and other members such as the church's use of styrofoam cups and several disposable products.  Laura Woodworth has agreed to head an environment committee.  Larry Schupbach, Jayla Butler, Jennifer Taylor, and Naomi Davidson ohave also volunteered to serve on the committee to address these concerns and prompt the church into action.
 
Where will these new programs end?  Hopefully, they won't.  There are even brewings of ideas such as a "latch key" program for children who need supervision after school.  As long as the church can come up with ways to reach out to others and make Christianity more meaningful, Methodism in Sparta will continue to flourish.
 
Does this congregation have what it takes to continue into the next century?
 
"I'm alwys amazed by what tremendous strength we have through our diversity," said Carol Ashley.
 
"I am proud to be a part of a group of concerned, caring Christians furthering the work of God," said Cindy Sickmeyer.
 
By keeping their minds open, their hearts warm, and their hands extended, the United Methodists in Sparta are dedicated to furthering the Kingdom of God.  It certainly sounds like this church has the potential for a great 21st century!