History of Hebron RP
As so often happens when the older generations pass away, many commonly known historical facts are forgotten, and this has happened with the history of the Hebron Church. Fortunately the first Session minute book, and short historical sketches from the 50th, 75th and 100th anniversary celebrations survive, and this narrative attempts to tie them together.
Clay County was a destination for many after the Civil War. Quoting from a document written by James Copeland “Would it be wrong to say that the founders of this Congregation were also called to come to this place? In 1868-1869 Covenanter men and women from the eastern U.S. began coming to Clay County. By 1870 there were enough to request Synod for a Church Organization. A mission was started in which Rev. Matthew Wilkin labored. One of his letters read that he had worked four months and had received $38.”
More details are given in a history written by early member and elder Ambrose Copeland for the 50th Anniversary: “A Commission, consisting of Rev. S.T. Milligan, Rev. S.M. (Samuel McCutcheon) Stevenson and Elder Law, was appointed to promote the organization. They met in the Washington school house on November 9, 1871, and a joint organization was formed. There were two branches, one being known as the Republican City and the other as the Eagle Bend. There were 32 members in all and each branch elected two elders and one deacon. Republican City chose J.B. Porter and J.T. Sanderson as elders, and William Law (Lockhart?) as deacon. The elders for Eagle Bend were W.B. (William) Whittaker and W. (Wilson) Rodgers, and John Derringer was their first deacon. Rev. S.M. Stevenson was appointed by the Central Board of Missions to serve both branches. In 1873, the Eagle Bend Branch asked the Presbytery for a division of the two congregations, the one to be known by the name of the Republican City Church and the other as the Tabor Church.” According to notes from W.M. Glasgow, the date of the change was November 15, 1873, and additional elders elected in 1873 at Tabor were Hugh W. Hutcheson, Adam Marshall, and Thomas K. Tippin.
This information explains why the Hebron Session minute book begins with the first entry being “Republican City Congregation, Dec. 20th, 1873”, and evidently the Tabor congregation kept the original session minute book. Eagle Bend was a wing-shaped bend in the Republican river about five miles north of Idana, and the Tabor congregation met in that area. According to brief records located at the Clay County Museum compiled by Clyde Tippin, a building was erected in 1881 for the Tabor Congregation about four miles west of Eagle Bend, or eleven miles west and two miles north of Clay Center. This group continued in existence for a little over 50 years when the building and grounds were deeded to the United Brethren Church on November 8, 1924, as many of the families had moved to other locations. The church building was used until the mid-1950’s and then sold for salvage in 1966. Some of the ministers who served the Tabor R.P. Church were Samuel Greer, Owen Thompson, S.M. Stevenson, Alvin Smith and Rev. Marlow. Some families who were members included the Blackwoods, Manwarrens, McConnells, Tippins, Sterretts, Woodsides, Moores, Derringers, McKelvys, Whittakers, McIntires, McElroys and others.
Continuing to quote from Ambrose Copeland in reference to the Republican City branch which became Hebron: “They had no house of worship in those days and they often met under a wide spreading oak tree on Five Creeks, and sometimes in school houses that were very small. The first place of worship that was erected was a large shed on the S.M. Stevenson place (about 1/2 mile east of the present cemetery). It was known as the Tabernacle.” Quoting from James Copeland, “The seats were rough planks and few comforts enjoyed. A letter from Mrs. S.M. Stevenson to friends reads: ‘We have no place in which to worship except a temporary affair not as good as a stable ought to be, and we have had no stove all winter. We got one yesterday. We will stop the cracks with rags and the men will bank it up with dirt to keep out the cold.’ ” Another handwritten account states “A building made of rough boards nailed horizontally to a frame and probably battened without a floor except for hay served the purpose of a church. The building faced the south with 2 doors in that end and a board taken off in the north end for the children to come in.”
In the Session Minutes, the name of the congregation is still shown as Republican City on March 30, 1876, and then abruptly is shown as Hebron Congregation on April 28, 1876. According to notes of W.M. Glasgow, the change occurred April 17, 1876. It may be that the group which became Hebron was being confused with another congregation which had been organized earlier on January 20, 1871 – The Republican City Reformed Presbyterian Church! This group was not our denomination, being of the “New Light” branch. This other “Republican City” congregation had the distinction of having the first church building erected in Clay County and was located about three miles south and one mile west of Clay Center. When the railroad came through the area on the north side of the Republican River, the town of Republican City was doomed and Clay Center won the right to become the county seat. This “New Light” church continued to meet in the same location until the early 1940’s, even though it was the last structure remaining from the small village which used to be Republican City. The group then purchased what was known as the Third Street Methodist Church and continued to meet for a few more years. When the congregation finally disbanded, the Hebron Church welcomed James and Frances Chestnut into its membership and enjoyed their friendliness and faithfulness which was evident until the very end of their lives.
The building which served the Hebron Congregation well for nearly 100 years was built in 1879 on five acres of land purchased for $10.00 per acre. Records state “They used just the frame structure until 1881, when it was plastered and finished inside.” According to some recollections, the pulpit was in the west end and the floor did not slope. In the spring of 1917 the congregation put an annex on the south side of the church and a basement. The floor was sloped to the north and the pulpit area constructed in the north side. In 1948 the Rural Electric Association lines reached the church and electricity was installed. In the early 1950’s a west vestibule was added and a well was drilled. Nothing more than a hand pump was ever installed, however, and outdoor facilities were all that was available. New siding was installed in the 1950’s and the interior walls and ceilings were painted in the early 1960’s. The structure remained solid and utilitarian throughout the period of its use.
Even though travel was difficult in the late 1800’s, being by horseback, buggy, wagon or train, the pastors seemed to be involved with several congregations. Rev. S.M. Stevenson worked with both the Hebron and Tabor congregations, and on September 1, 1881 he was part of commission appointed by Kansas Presbytery “to organize a congregation at Superior, Rubens and Holmwood” as found in the Holmwood session minute book. The Holmwood church was about 10 miles north of Mankato in Jewell county Kansas, nearly 90 miles from Hebron. Rev. Stevenson continued to moderate the Holmwood session through April 23, 1883. Other Hebron pastors whose names also appear in the Holmwood minutes are J.R. Latimer, W.S. Fulton, and J.R.W. (James Renwick Wilson) Stevenson. These were among the very early years of settlement in this region, and families moved frequently in the hope of finding better farming or living conditions. As a result, rural congregations experienced wide variations in membership.
Quoting again from a handwritten history: “On Aug. 18, 1882, Rev. J.R. Latimer was installed pastor and served in that capacity till 1890. Under his leadership grew from about 40 members to about 100 members, and it was probably due to his influence that the Young People were organized in late 1890 after he left.” Without pastoral leadership, the congregation apparently declined somewhat, and was then built back up under Rev. W.S. Fulton from late 1895 to 1905. Continuing to quote: “From 1905 to 1909 the church was again without a permanent pastor but interest was kept up and organization had in no respect been laging [sic] but the young people, in 1908, reorganized the society which had been disorganized for 2 or 3 years……When Rev. (J.R.W.) Stevenson came the membership was only about 40. He built it up till in about 1925 the membership reached 112.”
In 1911 the Holmwood Congregation disbanded and several families moved to the Hebron community. Among these were Charles and Maud Cavin transferred on Nov. 21, 1910. The Marion and Laura Stevenson family, Brainard W. and Mollie McMahan family, Mrs. Nancy Reid, Miss Belle Reid, and Miss Ida M. Montgomery all were transferred to Hebron on Oct. 23, 1911 as the last recorded action of the Holmwood session. Irl and Anna McMahan stayed in Jewell county until 1912 when they also moved to the Idana area and joined with the Hebron congregation. All of Brainard and Mollie’s other children grew to adulthood, married and stayed in the area and helped form a strong nucleus with the Copelands, Dunns, Greenlees, Milligans, Tippins, Hendersons, Stevensons and other families.
Some of the growth in numbers was due to Rev. J.R.W. Stevenson’s faithful work with the congregation and also the youth. Quoting from the 1971 Centennial booklet: “In 1912, the Constitution was revised, and the name was changed to the Covenanter Young Peoples Union of Hebron Congregation, and the object was to be trained in personal work, mutual spiritual help and the advancement of Christ’s Cause in the world.”
“Through the efforts of this group, money was sent to build a church at the mission in Latakia, to the mission in China, money to Cyprus, money to the Home and Foreign Mission board, to the Jewish Mission, and kept two pupils in school for a year in China by subscription. They also gave to the Syrian Relief Fund, the Church Budget, and the Pastor’s salary. They attended conventions, and wrote papers to give there. There were several members of the society from the neighborhood who were not members of the church, and were known as associate members. In 1927 there were 36 members.”
Missions and evangelism were emphasized in the C.Y.P.U. meetings, and the congregation set an example in another way as recorded in the handwritten account: “In August and September, 1928, we loaned our pastor to the Seattle Congregation, and from October, 1928, to April 1929 to the Fresno, California congregation. Again the past year we loaned him for four months to the Winnipeg, Canada, congregation. You all know his splendid work in these places and it has been the same here.” J.R.W. Stevenson obviously showed by his life the importance of missions. Not only were funds being sent to missions by the C.Y.P.U., but also several young people sensed the call of God to be pastors or missionaries as listed later in this booklet.
World War II affected the lives of all who lived during that era and the families of the Hebron Congregation were no exception. A letter written to the congregation by Rev. J.G. Vos on May 21, 1945 states: “Because of the tire and gasoline shortage, it has been decided not to hold the usual Vacation Bible School this summer. Instead, a series of special Sabbath evening programs for the children are being planned for part of June and July.” The same letter listed statistics showing 86 communicant members, 13 on the Cradle Roll, and 17 additional baptized members for a total of 116. Eight members were serving in the armed forces: Paul C. Greenlee, Dean J. Milroy, Scott M. Milroy, Wilbur C. Copeland, Henry M. Copeland, Fred L. Egner, Howard J. Mann, and Harold H. Milligan. Joseph B. Copeland also was serving, but his membership had been transferred to the Cambridge congregation. Other members of the Young People’s Society or former members of the congregation also in the armed forces were Roland C. Greenlee, John Russell James, Robert Clayton Chestnut, Roger Chestnut, and Thomas K. Tippin. No doubt prayer was poured out abundantly on behalf of these young men, and the Lord answered graciously as all returned safely and many went on to take up leadership positions in various congregations.
Mission work of another kind began during the pastorate of J.G. Vos in the mid 1940’s, 50 years ago. Dr. Vos was a great defender of reformed doctrine and a prolific writer, and he combined these traits with the “Blue Banner Faith and Life” publication. This important work continued during Dr. Vos’ tenure at Geneva College and well into the 1970’s. Much of the printing from the 40’s even until later years was done in Linn, Kansas, 22 miles north of Clay Center by the Record Publishing Company. This project was also a labor of love for the printer, Tom Mall, who started working at the Record in 1955 and purchased the company in 1963. In a recent conversation Mr. Mall noted that he only met Dr. Vos once, but that he was always a pleasure to work with. Mr. Mall stated that even though he is a Lutheran, he not only proof-read the Blue Banner but also enjoyed reading it for sound Biblical doctrine.
Another important aspect of the history of Hebron is the Women’s Missionary Fellowship. As recorded in the 1971 booklet the Ladies Missionary Society as it was then known “was organized in 1896. It was designed to cultivate a missionary spirit, to perform Christian duties, to labor for the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom in the World, and unite the efforts of the ladies of this congregation to aid in supporting missionaries in the various mission fields of the R.P. Church.” The WMF today has a membership of 14 and continues to hold monthly meetings. Funds are sent to both foreign and home missions and other mission related organizations, Geneva College and RPTS, as well as assistance being given to young people attending church conferences.
Since the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Hebron Congregation in 1971 the major event has been relocating the church building to Clay Center. Church location had been a matter of concern as early as 1903, when the congregation voted 35 to 31 to move to Idana. The outcome of this vote strained relationships and the Pastor and Session responded on November 13, 1903 by presenting a “Bond of Peace” to the congregation. This stated in part: “we are exceedingly sorry that such unhappy conditions have existed among us as a congregation….we do promise you, that by the assistance of Divine power and Grace to the greater Glory of Christ and for the best advancement of His Covenanted Cause in Hebron Congregation that all agitation on our part as to church Removal shall cease for at least one year.” The congregational minutes make no further mention of a move to Idana, but rather focus on the difficult financial conditions which seemed to characterize Hebron from the 1880’s until the late 1930’s. By 1965 the possibility of moving to Clay Center was being discussed as the minutes of the January congregational meeting show the following motion being passed: “That the long range planning committee examine the possibility of the purchase of a suitable church building in Clay Center or purchase of a lot which could be used at a later time to build a church, with the final decision to be made by the congregation.” Rev. David Patterson resigned in May of 1965, and Rev. Luther McFarland accepted the call of the congregation in 1966 and he served as pastor until 1975. No further action was taken on the question of location until the January 24, 1968 meeting, when a motion requesting “that the congregational chairman appoint a building committee to check into possibilities of building a new building and having presbytery look over the situation and give recommendations.” At a special meeting called by the session on June 4, 1968, a written vote was taken to determine the will of the congregation. “The results were 21 to 20 that the church building remain where it is.”
In the early 70’s, there was much concern as to whether the congregation would remain viable, as there were only two children remaining at home in the families. However, the Lord in His Providence began to bring young couples back into the congregation. Eugene and Sonda Copeland, Jettie and Peg Condray, Steve and Sheryl McMahan, and Bob and Sheila Steenbock settled in the area and worshipped regularly starting in 1973-1974. At the congregational meeting on January 31, 1976 once again the matter of relocating was put to a vote with the results being 22 to11 in favor of moving. Even though the hearts of many ached at the thought of leaving the location of so many wonderful memories, the Lord blessed the congregation with a good spirit of unity.
With this decision a chain of action was set in motion. A steering committee was appointed which then appointed other committees as necessary. Reports were given at each monthly “family night”. A building fund had been established in earlier years, and more donations began to arrive as the decision was announced. Rev. J. Bruce Martin accepted the call of the congregation and was installed on October 4, 1976 as pastor.
As early as September of 1976 the “site” committee began recommending the purchase of two lots in the Goodin addition for the new church location. However, even though there was strong agreement that this was a good choice, five meetings were called between September of 1976 and May of 1977 before a 50% quorum was obtained and the location approved with 28 yes and 3 abstain. At the same meeting the sale of the parsonage in Idana was also approved since Pastor Martin had purchased a home in Clay Center. Even though numerous meetings were held with no official action, progress was made as the time was spent discussing types of buildings and basic plans.
During the fall and winter of 1977-78, the building committee met with representatives of at least three construction companies, who drafted preliminary plans for the new church. After much study, the committee recommended that Carlson Construction be selected as the contractor with plans to be developed jointly by Carlsons and the committee. This was approved at the annual congregational meeting January 25, 1978. The blueprints were drawn up and presented to the congregation for approval on March 15. No official groundbreaking ceremony was held, but the bulldozer began work in early April and the building was completed in November. A lot of work was done by the members of the church to hold down the cost, such as nailing down the flooring, insulating the sidewalls, painting the interior and exterior, and installing all the floor coverings. The entire project cost about $100,000. Due to the generosity of many former members and friends the only loan needed was $20,000 from Synod’s Trustees, which was repaid ahead of schedule with the Lord’s rich blessings. The first service was held in the new building on November 19, and the dedication was Friday evening, November 24, 1978.
Even though the building was ready, the landscaping remained to be done. During the spring and summer of 1979 rock retaining walls were laid by the men of the congregation, and grass, trees and shrubs were planted. In addition to the Martin family, Norm and Gwen Milligan also had moved back to Clay Center followed by Roland and Wanda Milligan. Kim and Sharon Clark married and stayed in the area, and these couples kept the church full. In the late 1980’s Harold and Margaret Milligan returned to the area to “retire”.
In the early 1990’s most of the lots in the neighborhood of the church were being sold. Clyde Goodin and his brothers offered to sell the two lots adjoining the church property to the congregation at a reduced price and the offer was approved at the 1994 congregational meeting. We are thankful for this extra land and pray that the Lord would give us reason to need it in the years to come!
As with most rural congregations, the demographics of the group changes in cycles. Hebron has enjoyed having a number of young families and individuals such as Eugene and Sonda Copeland, Brad and Renee Keena, Tony and Natalie Cowley, Guido and Emily Van der hoeven, Ian and Chris Welsh, Steve Rockhill, Rick and Rachel Smith, Marty and Maria Horjus and Stan and Marilyn Copeland worship with us for a period of time and then move on in response to the Lord’s leading. We do not have very many youngsters at the current time, but we have seen that change in the past as the Lord provides. We rejoice that Rick and Vickie Baybutt and children have joined us during the past two years, and ask that you pray with us that the Lord would send more young families.
The Lord has provided many faithful older members who have set wonderful examples for the younger families, and we miss several as the Lord has been taking them home one by one. Still we remain confident as we consider portions of Psalm 48 “consider ye her palaces, to sons her story tell” and “Because this God will be our God to all eternity, yes even on through death itself our constant guide is He.” Reflect on the various ways the Lord has used the ministry of the Hebron Congregation in your life and join us in thanking Him for the rich heritage He has given us.