History of South Vienna

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     About 1846, a group of people from several denominations, including Universalists and Christians, built a church in Plattsburg known as the People’s Home.  It was here that some from Vienna Cross Roads worshipped. Later the Peoples House came under the jurisdiction of Christians alone. In about 1858, there was a great revival at the Plattsburg Church, and many from Vienna Cross Roads were converted. A short time later a group of people met in the parlor of J. B. Lingle’s home, which was located on the northwest corner in downtown Vienna Cross Roads.  It was decided to purchase land from Mr. Lingle at $65 per acre, 1 ¼ acres for $96.  The building was built in 1858.  The society was organized by Elder Griffin, who previously had preached at the Methodist Episcopal House of worship in Vienna Cross Roads.  The church was a frame building and cost about $1,200, with the labor donated.  The building was called Griffin’s Chapel, after the first pastor.  While the church was being built meetings were held in the Old Blue school building.

     In 1863, Griffin’s Chapel became a part of the Christian Conference, and the first meeting in the new chapel was Feb. 21, 1863. 

There were seventeen members, and the following resolutions were adopted:

  1.  The Bible is our only rule.
  2.  Christian character is our only test of fellowship.
  3.  The name of this edifice shall be Griffin’s Chapel.


     The first communion was Dec. 28, 1863.  A protracted meeting was held that lasted until March 1, 1864, and 52 new members were added to the roll. In 1864, Rev. Griffin went to visit his son at an army camp in Tennessee.  While there, he became ill, and died shortly thereafter. After Rev. Griffin’s death, Rev. Forshee was chosen as a replacement at the cost of $100 per year.  He preached two sermons per month.  Each male member was assessed $1 per year for church expenses, plus .15 for each $100 on the tax list.  Most of the women gave .50.  To pay for repairs each male member was assessed .35, each female .15, and both .05 tax on each $100 of property value. The janitor was paid $1.25 per month and had to split the wood, which the members had given. Members were required to give regular reports on their behavior. Due to a lack of church interest, in 1875 Brother Dobbins, a home missionary, was sent to revive the church.  On Dec. 18, 1875, ice was broken on the creek between Vienna Cross Roads and Plattsburg, and a baptismal service was held. In 1879, Rev. C. L. Wingert came to serve the church and greatly revived it.

     Rev. S. A. Carris was pastor in 1883, and at this time a new bell, stoves, burers and shades for lamps, song books, and a new iron fence for the front of the building was purchased.  The cost of the fence was $10.54.

     In 1885, the first record of regular Sunday School was found, even though short summer sessions were held as early as 1865.  It was also decided this year that the church could not be used for any political purpose.  This same year, an oyster supper was held, which became a tradition for many years.  In later years, game suppers, harvest festivals, ice cream socials, and Sunday School picnics were highlights of the church. In 1895, Rev. Bennett served as pastor of both Vienna Cross Roads and Wilson Chapel, then Rev. Hugh Smith served as pastor in 1898. In 1905, the first Missionary Society was organized, with six members.  From this, the Guild, and later, the Women’s Fellowship emerged. In 1915, electric lights were installed, along with new hardwood floors and a new pulpit and railing. A new constitution was adopted in 1918, and this same year, a junior Endeavor was organized.  They sponsored a gala New Year’s party at the K of P Hall, with Plattsburg people also invited.  A new women’s organization called The Guild was started in 1919, and in 1922, the first daily vacation bible school was held.

     In 1929, the JOY class was organized under the leadership of Mary Jones.  Also, this year, the Congregational Churches and the Christian Churches united to form the Congregational Christian Church. In 1932, the church building was divided into three classrooms and a sanctuary. In 1947, the building committee authorized Frank Clark to secure all information necessary to start work on a new church remodeling, and a public auction was held to raise money for the building fund.  In 1948, the plans were accepted and work was started.  The old building would be the sanctuary with the east side to be divided into three classrooms.  Rev. Alexander secured the deed to the Bookwalter Church and sold it for $600, which was in turn put in the building fund.  The church members voted to construct a basement and a back entrance in 1949, and in 1950 it was decided to build a cement block addition along with the basement. A portion of the South Vienna school ground was purchased in 1952, after the school had moved to the other end of town.  In 1954, the congregation voted to build the parsonage, and it was completed in 1955.  Rev. Milton Merrit and his family were the first occupants. In 1957, the union of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church was declared in force, and named the United Church of Christ.  This statement of faith was approved in 1959. The back room of the church building was partitioned and rest rooms were added in 1961.


     The first church in the village was the Vienna Methodist Episcopal Church.  This society was cradled at the home of Richard Watkins as early as 1835.  His house continued to be the principal house of worship until 1842, when the society, having achieved sufficient strength and numbers, began preparing to build a house of worship.  The result was a brick structure, 30 X 40 feet, which cost about $2,000.  It was dedicated the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1843, and was built in about the same area as where the next church building was constructed.  This society also sustained a Sabbath school.  The parsonage was located in Vienna Cross Roads, apparently on W. Main Street, until 1871, when a parsonage was established in Catawba. Also, in 1871, a new frame church was built in about the same area.

     In 1902 this building was removed, and the third Methodist Church was built on the same location.  This church was called the M. E. Church of Vienna Cross Roads, and had 112 members and 13 probationers.  Dr. D. C. Ridgeway was the minister, and the contractor was Tom Clark. In 1939, two denominations united; the Methodist Episcopal and the Methodist Protestant, which had been separated since 1828.  The name of the church was now changed to the Methodist Church.  The following year, the name of the Ladies Aid Society was changed to the Womens’ Society of Christian Service.  On Sunday, Sept. 26, 1943, the Centennial Celebration of the founding of the church in the village was held.  There was a Rally Day in the Sunday School, morning church services, and a basket dinner with nearly 175 present.  There was an afternoon program, with Rev. Ben Middleton speaking, and Mrs. Carl Steel giving a history of the church.  The pastor of the church at this time was Rev. George Thompson. The official board of the church, in 1953, decided to begin a fund-raising program for a much needed addition to the church.  This project was finished in 1956, and included  rest rooms, a social room or parish hall, a kitchen, and a number of Sunday School rooms.  The addition was 40’ x 60’ and cost $25,500.  A dedication service was held in 1959, after the debt was completely paid.  Rev. Arthur Shenefelt was the pastor, and a basket dinner was held in the new parish hall following morning services. In 1957, the church acquired its parsonage on N. Urbana Street through the generosity of Mrs. Addie Jones, after the death of her husband.  The parsonage had been at Catawba and New Moorefield while the church was on a circuit, but it was now a station, and Rev. and Mrs. Shenefelt were the first occupants of this parsonage.The Methodist Church united with the United Brethren Church in 1969.  This process of unification took a number of years, and was perhaps the  greatest step forward in ecumenical history.  Four different denominations, the Evangelical, the United Brethren, the Methodist Protestant, and the Methodist Episcopal churches were now united under one banner in one denomination, the United Methodist Church


     Early pastors included:

Rev. McDowell, Pearl Ingles, C. W. Swan, Rev. Estell, Philip Nation, Rev. Williams, Elijah Fields, John Vance, W. I. Ellsworth, W. B. Jack, W. J. Thurber, E. F.  Hill, Jonathan Verity, D. R. Baker, and G. J. Conner. After 1900 the pastors included the following: 1902   Dr. D. C. Ridgeway, 1903  S. W. Campbell. 1905 Rev. R. E. Eckles who  received $100 per year from Vienna church. Other churches on his circuit were Asbury, Brighton, and Fletcher.1908. Rev. J. B. Dolby 1910 – 1912, Rev. Robert Ellsworth, 1916 Rev. Joseph Trout, 1918, Rev. James True Yocum, 1919, Rev. Harley J. Moore, 1924 – 1927,   Rev. John Carter was minister for the New Moorefield  circuit.This included New Moorefield, Asbury, South Vienna, and Fletcher, until the Asbury church closed.1927 – 1930   Rev. Fred Rinehart   

          1930 – 1933   Rev. Howard Carpenter 1933 – 1940,  Rev. Ben Middleton  In 1939 the Methodist Episcopal and Methodist Protestant churches were united nationally. 1940 – 1943 Rev. L. C. Berger, 1943 – 1946 Rev. George Thompson,1946 – 1947      Rev. Raymond Konkright. In 1947 the circuit was changed to Catawba Parish.  The parsonage was  moved  from New Moorefield to Catawba and the churches served were Catawba, Pitchin, and South Vienna 1947 – 1949 Rev. Charles Hoffman 1949 – 1952 Rev. Deeds Died in 1952. Rev. Fields finished out the year.1952 – 1955 Rev. Clarence Kershner 1955 – 1958      Rev. George H. Baldridge   In 1957 the circuit was changed to Brighton/ South Vienna charge. 1958 – 1960 Rev. Arthur Shenefelt     He was a retired minister hired because they could no longer afford a full-time minister. Parsonage was now located at the  Lewis Jones property on N. Urbana St. which was willed to the church.  It was the churches first parsonage in many years, and Rev.Shenefelt was its first occupant. Starting in 1960 the churches were supplied by student ministers.  Some attended Stratford Seminary near Delaware, which was recently constructed by the Methodist Church, and some attended the Evangelical United Brethren Seminary in Dayton.  In 1969 the two denominations united and the two seminaries became the property of the newly formed United Methodist Church.


          1960 – 1963  Rev. Harvey Taylor.  Graduated and returned to New York state

          1963 – 1965  Rev. William Cooney. Graduated and returned to his Indiana conference

          1965 – 1968   Rev. Walter Custer

          1968 – 1969   Rev. Milton Cloud

          1969 – 1971      Rev. Leslie North was the last student.  Churches federated in  1971


     The United Church of South Vienna was formed in 1971.  It is a federation of the South Vienna United Church of Christ and the South Vienna United Methodist Church. Each church held congregational meetings on the same Sunday at the same time to vote on the question of federation.  Both churches voted in favor; the Methodists 41-8, and the UCC’s 40-2.

     Many meetings were held, both separately and jointly by the churches in preparation for the federation.  The hierarchy of the two denominations expressed serious doubts about the ability to successfully unite two churches of different denominations, but the United Church of Christ proved to be much more helpful in the completion of the federation than the Methodists. The first minister was Earl Vore.  He came to South Vienna from Buckland, Ohio, and was installed in services held in the Methodist building in January, 1972. Rev. Dr. Waldeman Haupt, Superintendent of the Springfield District of the Ohio West Conference of the United Methodist Church preached the installation sermon.  Rev. Martin W. Rettig, pastor of the Lawrenceville United Church of Christ and subchairman of the department of clergy in the Southwest Ohio Association of the United Church of Christ was the presiding minister for the service.  He represented the Rev. Dr. Clayton T. Rammler, conference minister for the United Church of Christ Southwest Ohio Association Services were held in both church buildings for several years, until the expense of maintaining both buildings proved to be unpractical.  Services were then held in the Methodist building and the UCC building was finally demolished to make room for the proposed new building.  The services were alternated between the buildings on a month by month basis when both buildings were in use. The closing service for the east, or UCC building was held on May 6, 1990.  A congregational meeting authorizing trustees to borrow funds necessary for construction of a new building was held on August 26, 1990, and the issue passed unanimously.  The groundbreaking was held on September 30, 1990.  Judy Jones was the pastor, and Don Witter was chairman of the trustees.  The building committee, nicknamed the “Over The Hill Gang” consisted of Dana Stites, chairman, Tom Donkin, Steve Earley, Ralph Phares, Hugh Smith, Dale Mitch, and Eugene Shook.

     Construction of the new building actually started November 1, 1990 and the contractor was Larry Taylor of London, Ohio .The building was completed in June, 1991, at a cost of $265,000, and the closing service for the west, or Methodist building was held June 30, 1991.


     All stained glass windows from both church buildings were carefully boxed up and stored for future use in a proposed future sanctuary.

     July 2 and 6 were moving days.  The pews and organ were moved on the evening of July 2, and most everything else was moved on July 6, in a project that lasted nearly all day.  The day was finished by cleaning, raking, seeding, and covering the yard with straw, and the first service was held on Sunday, July 7, 1991.

     Two of the most active groups of the federated church were the women’s circles.  The Mary-Martha Circle met during the day for many years, and finally quit meeting about 2008, because of a lack of members.  The Dorcas Circle still meets monthly during most of the year in the evening.  Their primary fundraising project is sponsoring three or four lasagna dinners each year immediately following church.  The primary beneficiaries of this fundraising are Lifeline Christian Mission for sponsorship if a girl in Haiti, and the church building fund.

     A building committee was formed, and after literally years of meetings a groundbreaking was held on October 12, 2008.  Larry Taylor was again the contractor.  The members of the building committee were Greg Massie, chairman, Dana and Lauranel Stites, Ron and Carolyn Shoemaker, Becky Holton, Gary Hurst, Roger Runyan, Dr. William Fippin, Mike Phares, and Pastor Scott Griswold.

     All of the stained glass windows previously stored were refurbished and used in the new construction.  Other special options included in the construction included a deluxe oak panel system, including doors and trim; an arched stone wall in the front of the church, a special lighting system for the stained glass windows, a balcony, and an audio and visual system.  The total cost of the new sanctuary was approximately $695,000. The landscaping was completed as an Eagle project for Ben Justice, with assistance from the other members and leaders of Troop 6. The first service in the “new building” was Easter, 2009. It was the sunrise service, and it was memorable for several reasons, primarily because at that time there were no walls, no heat, no lights, and cold chairs. The final worship service in the fellowship building was September 9, 2009, and the first service in the new sanctuary was September 20.  The service on the missing Sunday was held, as usual for the Sunday after Labor Day, at the Corn Festival.


     The ministers who have served the United Church of South Vienna include:

          Earl Vore, 1971-1978

          Albert Young, 1978-1986

          Judy Jones, Interim 1987, 1988-1995

          Martha Kline, Interim 1995, 1995-2000

          Scott Griswold, 2001- Present

          Karen Griswold, Licensed Pastor - Present

United Church of South Vienna's website here
Judy Jones, Interim
1987, 1988-1995
Albert Young, 1978-1986

L to R Back Row:
 Ron Shoemaker, Carolyn Shoemaker, Lauranel Stites, Dr.

William Fippin, Dana Stites, Mike Phares, Rev. Scott Griswold. Front Row: Gary Hurst, Roger Runyan, Greg Massie.
Martha Kline, Interim 1995, 1995-2000
Earl Vore, 1971-1978