News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 29, 2013

140-year mission: Oldest member has served Lena United Methodist Church for more than half of its existence

Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star

LENA, Ind. — Sitting inside the church that he has been attending for about 75 years, John S. Mace shared a promise he made to God.

“On the 15th day of January 1945, my unit was pinned to the ground in the snow at the Battle of the Bulge,” the 89-year old World War II veteran said on Sunday.

“I promised the Lord that day: ‘If I get home alive, I will start serving you,’” he recalled, a bit teary eyed.

And he has been keeping this promise as a member of the Lena United Methodist Church.

“They used to give out a pin every year if you had perfect attendance. I have 23 of them,” Mace, who at two different times served as Sunday School superintendent at the church, he said.

He added that if the church had not stopped the practice, he would have accumulated more pins.

This past weekend, Mace – a father to three sons and a daughter – was in attendance as the Lena United Methodist Church celebrated 140 years of ministry in the Lena area. His daughter, Becky, and her family also attend the church.

The building housing the Lena United Methodist Church was erected in 1873 and has since sat along Lena Road close to the line that divides Parke County and Clay County.

And as the church’s oldest member, Mace is well-versed in its history.

“Back then, the church was set on the ground,” he said, adding that the worship area was raised up in the 1940’s when the basement was put in.

Mace said over the years, the building has been renovated and some parts were added but most of the work was done by volunteer members of the church.

He recalls some work being done to the building in the 1960s, with the church having an average attendance of 110-115.

Today, the church’s average weekly attendance is around 40-45.

But this church’s history is also intertwined with its members’ life histories.

In 1964, Mace and his wife, Leta (who passed away in 2007) lost their son, Larry in a tractor accident.

“Members of the church helped us pull through it,” he said.

On Sunday, Mace and around 30 other members, friends and family gathered under a new structure in the church grounds.

They stood with their head bowed as United Methodist Church West District Superintendent Rev. John Davis  led the dedication of the new pavillion and the rededication of the 140-year old church to further the church’s mission.

The mission?

“To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” said Lena United Methodist Church Pastor Terry Jeffers.

Over its long history, the church has also been involved in activities helping the people in need in Lena and its surrounding towns and cities.

“Being the only non-residential building in the Lena area, this church is a presence in the area,” said Jeffers.

The new pavillion, funded by donations in memory of supporters of the church, is “for the people of the town of Lena,” he said.

He hopes that Lena residents will use the pavillion as a place to gather.

The ceremony was part of a series of events at the church on Saturday and Sunday for the “Homecoming and Dedication” celebrating the church’s long history. Earlier events on Sunday, including the worship service, saw around 90 people at the church.

“Homecoming doesn’t just mean coming home to visit. It means coming home to Christ,” Jeffers said at the dedication ceremony.

And those who have considered the church their “home” are thankful for its constant, long presence.

“There were some good and rough times [in our lives] but the church has always been here,” Mace said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.