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Church History (1935 - 1984)

1935… Just another year in time. Mary Pickford weds Douglas Fairbanks. Amelia Earhart flies from Honolulu to Oakland, CA (non-stop of course). Nylon is invented. Oh---We have to include a company Coopers, sells the first men’s briefs! The board game Monopoly was first sold. And sandstorms ravage the Great Plains now known as the Dustbowl.


In the 1920s and 30s much effort was growing nationally for unification between branches of Methodism. 1939 saw the merger of the Methodist Episcopal, the Methodist Episcopal South, (with few churches in Indiana), and the Methodist Protestant Churches . These were now unified and renamed into the larger Methodist Church organization.


The Great Depression of the 1930s brought difficulties for all. Church memberships and finances suffered but most congregations survived and became reinvigorated after World War II.


While the exact date of the beginning is unknown, Salem had a program called “Harvest Home” celebrated at Thanksgiving time each year. At times when there was not enough money to pay the minister one could hear the cackle of hen or sound of a duck or goose from the basement downstairs on Thanksgiving eve. These were offered as well as corn, potatoes, pumpkins, flour, sugar and such… all in an amount the congregation knew he needed.


Even with all the turmoil of the 1930s, these were busy times for Salem. Activities ranged from ice cream socials to serving meals at farm sales.  Cakes were brought by the church ladies to go with the ice cream.  A piece of cake with or without ice cream was expensive! … five or ten cents!


Salem still enjoys a busy calendar year with its Ice Cream Social in July, Annual Chicken Noodle Supper, other wonderful holiday events and the Chili Supper in February.


In the 1950s, four Sunday school rooms and an office were added to the basement, as well as restrooms. At the same time, it was decided to modernize the kitchen facilities. There are many of us here today who remember running around those new Sunday school rooms back then.


Another event of the 50s was Zionsville, who on August 9, 1952, celebrated its centennial anniversary. So yes, Salem’s origin of 1834 preceded the town of Zionsville’s in 1852.


In 1955, an organ was presented to Salem Church by Mr. and Mrs. Olin Walker.  This added so much to our Worship Services and is still the one played today by our one and only Marie Urick. Marie won’t fess up to the exact number of years she has played. She started playing that organ  when she was 18 years old and well… she just never quit. Her years of filling this church with music is only matched by her mother- Maude Atkins, who led our singing along with my mother Mary Jean Ottinger for many, many years. Between Marie, Maude and Mary Jean, they have filled this sanctuary with song for over 45 years. Mary Jean and Maude were committed to music in this church. If it was only the two of them, or one, … there will be music at Salem on Sunday morning. On one Sunday several years ago, a service was held without a song during the entire morning worship service. That happened once and was to be no more. It was proved how important music is to God’s ministry to the soul.


There are too many to mention who have given generously in time, talent, money and labor to this little country church on the hill.


In 1966, the Sanctuary was remodeled, especially remembering Ms. Dolly Burgin, her sister Icy Burgin, and Lillie Arbogast whose bequest prompted this work.  The ceiling was lowered and new florescent ceiling lights that you see above were installed. I submit it won’t be long before we again, see the original ceiling above those acoustic panels and fixtures like we used to have.


Moving ahead…The years of the 60’s and 70’s are known all too well. Years of growth and controversy… in business, politics, culture, the church, the world… and Eagle Township. Zionsville was changing, growing, humming along with both the health of the farm community and urban sprawl of Indianapolis.


But 1968 brought again one of the most important changes, …and renaming,… in Methodism. The Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church united nationally into the United Methodist Church. Hence, the name changed once more and as it stands today--- Salem United Methodist Church.


Changes,  changes…. part of life… especially then. Beside organizational and name changes in the church were clergy from a variety of undergraduate programs and seminary graduates with differing Protestant traditions. New diversity offered a seemingly endless variety of liturgies and local doctrines for UMC congregations. Sometimes the pastor had church leadership. Other times leadership percolated up from the laity. With many not schooled in Wesleyan or Christian doctrines, many congregations were left confused.


Salem has rolled through the changing landscape with the best of them. For some, service means overseas missions. For others its taking care of our own across the street, the hungry, the poor, or to the elderly, or New Orleans, AIDS victims, or the all important pastoral visiting, one-on-one, upfront and personal in serious times of need.


And an informal style of worship grew…. Women began to wear slacks. Men (and women) wore jeans. Some preferred traditional hymns, others more contemporary styles of music. “I can still remember my grandfather, Carl Ottinger, who used to say “If I dress up for the banker, I’ll dress up for the Lord. He was not in attendance without a suit and tie”.


As times rolled on… in the 70s, … and in 1984, the year of Salem’s Sesquicentennial (or 150th) Celebration; these day were not without turbulent, emotional and interesting tests of change. 


All was going smoothly in 1984 until the congregation learned our minister, Pastor David Campbell, was being transferred to Avon in June.  Since no ministers were available for Salem Church, the Conference was considering selling our church building and moving the  members to Zionsville United Methodist Church which had a much newer, larger sanctuary and was only four miles away in the village of Zionsville.


Salem members sternly resisted the change, so District Superintendent Sam Phillips sent his son, Robert, who had just graduated from college to ‘fill in’ during the summer before he left for Law School.  Miraculously, Pastor James Hertel, who was leading a group of ministers to the Holy Land, answered Salem’s call for a full time minister. Rev. Hertel, a recently retired minister with extensive knowledge of the Bible, the Holy Land, Greek and Hebrew Translation, university studies and radio evangelist, disliked “so called retirement’ and was drawn to this pretty little church in the country.


Just as our 175th year celebration, the congregation was excited about the 150th year anniversary events planned for September 1984. Rev. James Hertel Sr. was our new confirmed pastor. A book on Salem’s History was published, titled an “Old Fashioned Sunday in June” commemorating the major church remodel and placement of the Cornerstone at Salem’s Sanctuary seventy years earlier in 1914. Everyone would dress in 1800’s attire, participated in a pitch-in dinner followed by the official Sesquicentennial Program re-dedicating Salem Church.


Rev. Hertel enthusiastically continued to save souls for another thirteen years at Salem Church, ensuring continuity of our small congregation. He felt that keeping Salem’s church building in good repair and expanding the congregation (average Sunday attendance was 40 people) was mandatory to maintaining its existence. During his era (1984-1997), plexiglass covers were wisely placed to protect the beautiful stained glass windows you see today; a nursery downstairs was established, furnished and overseen by Ruth Wilson and Diane Ward; the UMYF was restarted under the efforts of Judy and Jim Washburn, Donna Ricketts, Dick Wheeler and Virginia Crose. Also in 1987, new carpet was installed, pew cushions added and other amenities where needed.


Pastor Hertel continued “Fellowship Time with Goodies’ before Sunday Services which Robert Phillips had initiated during his short but important time of transition in 1984.  This continues today as invaluable time to meet and greet before Sunday service. Rev. Hertel also initiated the Children’s Sermon during the weekly Sunday Service.  I believe I represent you all in emphasizing the fun and importance of this to our weekly Sunday service. This is currently led by Paula Overman. Thank you Paula!


Yes, in 1984 like the prior 100 years; Salem was ready to set sail for whatever came its way next.


In 1984 Clara Peller first asks, "Where's the Beef?" A 6 year old in Texas receives 1st heart and liver transplant. Madonna is introduced on American Bandstand. Apple unveils the Macintosh during the Superbowl. And Rev. Hertel was on a tear…


Recorded Sermons

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