ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — Imagine more than 20,000 people flocking to a sleepy country grove in central Indiana in the year 1885. That was the year that Maria Woodworth-Etter, known as the “Trance Evangelist,” hosted an unforgettable camp meeting a few miles east of Alexandria.
“The people just kept coming,” said Dr. Joyce Thornton, pastor of Alexandria Epworth United Methodist Church. She said the revival was scheduled for one week, but it went on for a second, then a third week. The church where Thornton preaches today was built in 1888 on the spot where that event inspired so many. “This particular congregation sort of sprang up out of that.”
Today, Epworth is still aglow with the loving care of its congregation. The newly-remodeled sanctuary, vestibule and entry hall will be dedicated Sunday, followed by the annual Harvest Dinner.
The church’s roots reach down deep. The first home of the Epworth congregation was a small log cabin dating to 1853. That building burned in the first year, and in 1854, a larger log church was built about a half mile was of where the church stands today.
In the wake of Woodworth-Etter’s astonishing revival, the new Epworth church was built. It’s easy to spot the original part of the church with its unadorned walls and plain, wood-trimmed windows. The wooden reredos, a decorative altarpiece, is the focal point of the sanctuary.
“I’m assuming it was original with the building in 1888,” said Thornton. “Not very many churches have one of these.” In front of the reredos is the carved wooden altar table. “It’s just beautiful.”
Epworth was named for the birthplace of Methodist founder John Wesley. Epworth absorbed another area congregation in 1964, when it was merged with Beech Grove Methodist Church. In the late ’60s, accommodating the newly consolidated churches, a vestibule, classrooms and fellowship hall were added to the original Epworth church.