A church that has held worship services since the 1830s will hold its 175th birthday party and celebration, Sunday, Oct. 31.
The West Franklin Church of Christ got its start in 1835, when Joseph Bates, said to be the first white resident of Fulton County and Franklin Township, donated his first cabin on what is today Co. Rd. 26-2, north of US20A, to be used for worship services and a school.
Bates arrived in 1832, and brought his family to the township in 1833.
Those attending services organized in 1860, and in 1866-67, the current church building was built. Bonnie Morgan, a piano player at the church, said a 1967 history of the church gave the cost of construction as $1,200.
Lumber for the building came from the land around the church.
South of the church is Bates Run Creek, where the John Shilling family operated a sawmill. Lumber for the church was cut there.
John Shilling sold the land for the new church, which is on the west side of Co. Rd. 26-2, across from the Bates property.
In 2009, Jason Shilling, West Unity, replaced the original belfry. Jason is a sixth-generation descendant of John.
Colleen Rufenacht, rural Archbold, who attends the church, said the original name of the church was the Campolite or Disciple Church of Franklin.
Morgan said over the years, it has had several names: in May 1879, it was the Church of Christ, Franklin Township, Fulton County. By 1881, records give the name as the Franklin Congregation of the Disciple Church. By 1981, the name was Franklin Christian Church. In 1907, it was just the Disciple Church.
In 1898, the church held baptisms in a creek. During that winter, Morgan said her grandmother, the late Carrie Wyse, was baptized in the creek. When they arrived at home after the baptism ceremony, Wyse remembered her hair and clothes being frozen.
Once, they had to chop a hole in the ice to perform a baptism.
Ladies Aid Society
In the 1950s, Morgan said the church had an active Ladies Aid Society. They quilted, charging for their work by the spool of thread.
They also sewed aprons, rugs, and other things which were sold at the National Threshers Reunions, which were held at Montpelier until 1964 before they moved to Fulton County. The Ladies Aid also sewed clothing for needy families.
Money raised by the Aid Society was used to construct a basement under the church in 1955.
In the 1970s, a back room for Sunday school classes was added.
A fellowship hall was built in 2004. Rufenacht said the addition made the church handicap- accessible and added new restrooms and a kitchen.
Morgan said during the 2004 construction, a library or secretary’s desk was moved into a back room. Daniel J. Prickett made it from native wood.
Rufenacht said when the library was moved out of that back room and compared to the original wainscoting on the walls, the wood grain and color matched perfectly.
An original pew, which had been stored in a barn for decades, also was brought to the church. It, too, was made from the same wood, and matched the wainscoting.
Morgan said a Mr. Dodge, of West Unity, made the pulpit in 1880. It is still in use today.
In the 1860s, records show the church had close to 80 members. Morgan estimated the church holds 100. Today, the congregation is about the same, at 80.
But that wasn’t always the case. Morgan said in the 1930s, the church was down to about six members.
Were it not for the efforts of the late Ollie and Hazel Shetler, farmers who lived south of the church on Co. Rd. 26-2, the church might not have survived, Morgan said.
Morgan said the church has been vibrant.
“Over the last five years, we’ve seen a lot of growth. It’s more than numbers; it’s the cohesiveness of the families. They’re all pulling together.
“It’s really neat,” she said.– David Pugh