Like most Churches, in America, their history can be traced back generations. The Church of Christ of South Salem, Indiana is no different. For 173 years, South Salem has endured and faithfully served God's purpose. Though much of its history was never written down or what was, has been destroyed, there is a lot of it that has been handed down from generation to generation and with that in mind, we present our story.
In the early - mid 1800's, before the Civil War, there thrived a little town called South Salem. Records show that the first meeting house in Randolph County was placed at South Salem and people have been worshiping the Lord here ever since.
South Salem, Indiana is not a town anymore and has not been a significant area for settlers since the railroad decided to build a junction about 4 miles, as the crow fly's, northeast in what is now Union City. South Salem was a small community situated on the Fort Wayne-Richmond Highway about 2.5 miles north of what was the first stop for those coming into Indiana from Greenville, Ohio but now best known for its restaurant, Bartonia. The land was rich in timber and the people lived a simple life.
The following history is handed down from Charles Whitesel, Ralph Wasson, Norma Jean Wasson and updated to the present by George Caster, based on their recollection as told to or experienced in life.
In the early years of the 1840's, there were living, in South Salem, a few members of the Church of Christ who decided to establish a church. The church, being its members, first used a building which later became a barn for Vernie Polly who owned land along the east side of the highway or what is now called Arba Pike. During the winter months, they would meet in their homes. After a time, they began to meet in a room over David Polley's store. In 1851, shortly after the establishment of the Post-Office, they built the first church building, which was later used as a barn by Harvey Bowman. They met each Lord's Day and worshiped by singing songs, prayer and talks by the men of the congregation. On July11, 1857, in a business meeting, it was decided they needed to clean up the building and furniture with "white-wash" and paint as well as pay off the old debt of $10.00. By the use of pledges, that night they raised the necessary monies, having exceeded $36.00. The following men took part conducting the meetings, held each Lord's Day: Uriah Ballstock, John Hartman, Silas Gist, David Polley, John Harlan, W.D. Stone, Barnhill Polly and E.S. Polly.
On February 20, 1859, W.D. Stone proposed a levy on a man's valuation in order to defray the expenses of the church. A levy of $5.00 per $1,000 of a man's valuation was agreed upon and so levied. Three days later, the committee appointed to nominate officers, did so and the nominees were accepted. Harlan Harrison was called on to preach three-months of the year with the accepted Elders performing the remainder of the time.
During the Civil War, the women and children as well as the men who were left in the community met regularly and held together the best way they could. On February 2, 1865, the people met in mass to try and arouse the community to its religious duties. They elected officers and extended a call to Aaron Adams to preach God's word. The first Revival Meeting ever recorded in Salem was held on January 27, 1866 by Hardon Harrison & B. Polly. They added six to their number that week. Beginning on October 28, for nine days, another revival was held that added 77 to their number of which 62 were through Baptism and the rest through a renewal of faith. They again met before Christmas and through the New Year adding to their number another 11. On January 9, 1867 $154.50 was raised to defray the expenses for the rest of the year.
W.D. Stone, who had been helping to hold the church together all these years, promised, on April 7, 1868, to preach three-months of the year for $50.00 upon which he would donate to those in need. In August, 1868 word came from Aaron Adam's home that he was not in good health and the brethren took him communion each Lord's Day until September 8 when the Lord called him home. Soon thereafter W.D. Stone resigned and moved to Michigan and his work was taken up by Enos Polly and on Christmas Eve 1868, with the assistance of Hardin Harrison, began a meeting that added 4 more to their number however, was forced to close due to an epidemic in the community.
Now between 1870 and 1919, many ado happened or did not happen at South Salem due to various things, one being World War I, which caused a sharp reduction in attendance. Various men of God were called to this place to include W.D. Stone who returned in 1871 from Michigan and labored for the church when it was needed and in 1875 had one of the most successful meetings of the church. It began with Mr. Brown in 1870, followed by W.D. in 1871. J.H. Vinson, then a young man, came to us in 1880. At that time, the meeting house was getting old and J.H. continuously reminded and campaigned for a new house of worship. In 1882 I.P. Watts, of Winchester, got the call and with Henry Ohler and Samuel Shockney, raised the $2,100 needed to raise a new building which was dedicated on November 4, 1883. Between 1884 and 1887, W.D. Stone, again was laboring for God at this place and it seemed to lag until an Evangelist, B.F. Aspy, was sent to "liven up" the congregation however, no significant success was ever noted. Fermont Harter held a successful meeting the next four years and in 1893 a man named David Gary of New Castle began laboring for the next three years. It is noted that he did good for the cause of Christ during this time. 1896 saw Alonzo Beard, again a young man, from Salamonia, took over and again was noted to have had a very successful revival. Now from this time until 1900 there was really no real regular preaching done at South Salem however, there was a time when Emory Thompson, from Ohio, who had moved to a place in the vicinity of New Lisbon who did come and preach occasionally. There was however a time when arrangements had been made for him to have a more full time presence but alas, he too moved on when he accepted a call to Illinois. W.J. Howe, of Richmond, was called to replace Mr. Thompson and remained here for three years and did much good for the community. 1904 saw South Salem and New Lisbon call a man to labor for both churches. They sought someone who could live on the field and not to commute to services each Lord's Day. In 1905 saw B.F. Aspy back and in December of that year he began an evangelistic meeting only to have it come to a close on the 14th due to the death of Jason Williams daughter due to diphtheria. January 1, 1906 saw B.F. Aspey began again where he had left off and saw one of the most successful meetings of the church. He stayed with the church until he resigned in 1908 and T.A. Renold, of Muncie, took over. It is noted that Mr. Renold's call came with an increase in salary of which Salem had ever seen. 1910 saw W.A. Guy, who at the time was preaching at Carnahan, Ohio, accept a half-time (six-month) preaching at Salem. In 1911, J. Crocket Mullen, of Parker City, came when the committee could best send him. Spartanburg and Salem called a man, by the name of Stancel, for one year. O.P. Snodgrass accepted work and moved to Union City but soon was called to be with his maker. A young man from Anderson by the name of Knome finished his time. In 1916, the ladies of the church had Matthew Small come and preach part of the year and E.C. Nicholson preached occasionally. In 1918, Spartanburg was richly blessed by the coming of a man of God into their midst by the name of M.R. Scott. The burden of the Lord's work laid so heavily on his heart that he could not rest with the doors of the church closed and no services. He found himself coming to Salem and preaching at every opportunity and held a series of meetings in 1919 without any notable results. On December 19, 1920, due to a death in his regular church, services were cancelled and he came to Salem to preach. At the invitation, six young people came forward.
(the beginning of this account will overlap a bit with that of Mr. Whitesel's accounting during the 1918-1920 time frame.)
By 1918, due to World War I, the death of some of the members as well as others moving away, the attendance was sharply reduced. At this time. M.R. Scott, who had been called to Spartanburg, as previously mentioned, as well as Lynn was very concerned about the church at South Salem and did all he could, to include preaching from time to time, again as mentioned by Charles Whitesel above, could not overcome the flu epidemic and had to watch the doors close.
During the spring of 1920, some of the women of the church decided to try to have a Bible School and Communion again. Sometime in April about 12 or 15 people came for Bible Study. By the end of the summer, that number had risen to about 50. On December 19th, as previously accounted, six young people came forward. This was very encouraging and led to having another meeting in January of 1921, which again was very successful. O.H. Grist, the Superintendent of the Union City schools, acted as the lay-minister that summer. The winter of 1921 saw Mr. Scott holding yet another successful meeting. Brother J.A. Brown came to minister at South Salem and did so for about four years followed by Brother Riegel and George Fowler in the early 30's. In the later part of 1930, Earl Callaway ministerd to us. The 1940's saw Paul Cottrill, Dean Hance, John Frederick, Dean Teeters and Elmer Adams as minister's at South Salem. This included Eugene Fernsler, who in 1948, was called to minister here. During the time leading up to his arrival, some improvements had been made of the original 1883 building to include adding a balcony, a basement and furnace. While Brother Fernler's ministry, the church was enlarged to add several classrooms, a Baptistry, Fellowship room w/kitchen (in basement) and a parsonage was bought which he lived until the later part of his ministry when he moved to live with his mother-in-law and Ray Rowland took over the parsonage and became the care-taker.
Not much is recorded between this time and 1963 when a new parsonage was built, on its currently location, and was occupied by J.D. Saunders. He was then followed by Virgil Fox and Steve Brown.
On May 14, 1972 Nelson Buffenbarger came to be the minister and served until his resignation, due to health issues, in 1983. During the first four years of his service, we added new carpet, new pews and bought an organ. The youth sponsored building of a shelter house, still in use, as well as a new lawn tractor and equipment. 35 people were also added to the church.
In 1975 Lawrence "Dutch" Whitesel, then Chairman of the Worship Committee, asked that a Bicentennial Sunday Service be presented on February 29, 1976. During that service, "Dutch" presented the following:
"The local village of South Salem, as it was known in the early 1900's, has almost disappeared except for the church and the old Amos Bennett House. This church however, has grown from a one room meeting house to a nice building with 14 rooms, new pews and carpet. The following is a list of some of the gifts that the church has received from many of the active groups within the church: The choir of the 1950's gave the church its first electric organ which we replaced in 1975. The shelter house was sponsored, with the help of Carl Stump and several of our men who help raise it, by the youth group. The ladies of our missionary group, for over 70 years, have met to study and support independent missions all over the world. Other women have served in many avenues of Christian Service as Teachers of Bible Studies, Camp Cooks and Nurses. They have furnished transportation, cooked meals and many acts if love and kindness. There have been those who, down through the years, have served at the piano or organ like Anna Mae Wasson and Eunice Price and though too many to remember, there have been those who have graced us with "Special" musical praises as well. We cannot but help to think of many who have, in their own way, helped to make South Salem Church what it is today. Only to mention a few and not forget the rest, there are those like John Bickel and his wife Florence who taught, paid bills and brought watermelon to the annual homecomings. There was Audrey Calloway who sang for us, with her beautiful voice, and inspired us on in Christian service. Also, let us not forget Dora Downing, with her queenly presence reminded us to do our best and later helped to fund the present piano for the church."
(On the occasion of the Dedication of our New Fellowship Hall on November 20, 2005)
"Much has happened since our Bicentennial Year Service and historical update. I would like to, first, continue reminiscing about just a few of our members who have touched the life of this church is a special way. Who can forget Flora Buffenbarger, Nelson's wife, and the example of being a saintly help-mate, or her her deep knowledge and love of the scriptures? Mildred Whitesel and the love she had for her flowers, which she graciously shared to grace the pulpit on many a Sunday. The Carpenter family, whose special musical praises were always welcome and Elizabeth Carpenter, who arose at 3 or 4 am to make her scrumptious cinnamon rolls for the youth group bake sales, all because she had to be at work at 7 am. This is the Church of South Salem."
She continued to give a historical accounting of South Salem beginning with the resignation of Nelson Buffenbarger in 1983, due to health issues, and the church calling on Jeff Faull, a senior at Cincinnati Bible Seminary. Jeff stayed five years and the attendance grew under his leadership. In 1988, after Jeff left to work in Mooresville, there came a period of time before Jeff Strite came to serve. It was during his service that we added a new foyer, classroom and restrooms to the East-side of the church. Several members were afraid that the church would have to assume a debt however, a "Miracle Sunday" was held and the Lord blessed us with a collection that was more than enough to finish it debt free. In 1995 Jeff resigned and in 1996 Terry Speiss took the call and stayed until 1999 when he took the call with a church in Ohio. In 2000, Gabe Mraz came to us and stayed five and a-half years.
For many years those working with the youth had seen the need of more room for youth meetings and Vocational bible School (VBS). The need also was there for a larger, more accessible, Fellowship Hall as we had been having to rent space for special events. A committee was formed and spent more than two-years planning a facility that could meet all of those needs. August 1, 2004 found us breaking ground and construction began in September of that year.
Gabe Mraz resigned in July 2005 and a committee was formed to find a new minister. Dave Napier had taken a sabbatical from the ministry and was asked to fill the needs of South Salem. Dave let it be known that he was ready to get back into a located ministry and accepted the calling.
As Norma concluded, she stated that the church felt that God had blessed this church throughout the years and would continue to do so as long as we continue to honor Him. She ended by stating "We want to thank you dear people for coming to our celebration. Let us say together, "This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Psalm 118:24
(January 2006 - Present)
Dave Napier stayed with South Salem for five years with much success especially with the increase of the Youth Program. During this time, we purchased "Big Blue", a school bus we painted blue and Dave used to go throughout the Union City community to collect children for our Wednesday Night Youth Program "F.R.O.G.S" or Fully Relying On God's Son, as well as taking various trips with not only the youth but the Senior Saints as well. He encouraged others to take the call of ministering to the Youth to include myself. When "Big Blue" showed up in town, it was like the story of the Pied Piper. The children flocked to get on the bus and come to Youth Night. Dave and those he had inspired to minister to the children were so full of the Spirit, the children could not wait to get there and it also caused us to have to purchase a van
In 2009 Dave made his intention to retire known and the call was placed upon Matt Miller, who was ministering at a small church in Cincinnati while still attending the Bible College. In July 2010, Matt began holding services full-time. During his short tenure, the church expanded its presence by adding a website. In 2012, Matt Miller took a calling with a church in the southern part of Indiana near Metamora and the church was without a full-time minster. God's plan was still in play and the Elders took turns bringing God's word to the congregation. Ed Phenis, an Elder, was selected to fill the pulpit. A committee was formed to find a new full-time minister. During this brief period we added two additional buses, smaller in size, with one having Handicap Accessibility, to our fleet.
In December of 2013, Shawn Hamilton, a man with extraordinary experiences, was selected to fill the pulpit and he brought the word of God to our expanded community until his resignation in May 2016. A committee, again was organized, headed by George Caster and consisting of David Price, Karen Price, Carry Perry, Rick Van DePitte and Mark Groves to seek a new messenger. During their search, God's word was provided by many such as Ray Ellis, David Price, Michael Courtwright and Eric Riddle and John Hannum, whom through God's grace, blessed us with God's word most of the time, since Shawn's departure. Through the guidance of God, on June 11, 2017, the congregation voted and offered a calling to Channon Martin of North Carolina to bring God's Will into practice at South Salem and he accepted.