By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
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.
For all of its long history, Epworth today communicates a clean, comfortable, up-to-date welcome. In recent years, the congregation has thoughtfully renovated the facility. This year, Dorothy Walker headed up the interior remodeling effort which includes light creamy walls that work with all the wooden trim and the new oatmeal carpeting. Wooden blinds coordinate with all the wood trim.
Lay leader Cindy Morgan has been with Epworth for 30 years, since marrying her husband, Steven, who grew up in the church. Morgan noted that the church has been growing, with Sunday attendance around 40. The remodeling was spurred in part with growth in mind.
Thornton has provided leadership to the church a little over eight years.
“She’s a great leader,” said Morgan. “Her sermons are clear and easy to understand. She involves all age groups from our young people to old.”
“We preach Christ. We do our best to keep Christ at the center of everything we do,” said Thornton. “The church is an amazing community of faith, a deep, active love for each other, a palpable joy when they’re together.”
Originally from Kansas, Thornton went to Ohio to earn her bachelor of arts at Findlay College in music education. She earned her master’s in divinity at the Winebrenner Theological Seminary. Her doctorate in educational studies was earned at Trinity International University.
Thornton is an accreditation specialist who frequently travels to theological schools far afield, includinging India, Sri Lanka, Haiti and Nicaragua. She has frequently worked with the Caribbean Graduate School of Theology in Kingston, Jamaica.
“I love teaching.” At the same time, Thornton said, “I love being here because we are doing great things for the kingdom here.”
Sunday’s celebration and worship service begins at 9:30 a.m. The annual Harvest Dinner follows at 11:15 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall. Alexandria Epworth United Methodist Church is located at 3957 E. 1250 N, at the intersection of CR 400E and 1250 N., east of Alexandria. For more information about the church, contact 765-664-3102 or email cmorgan4H@gmail.com.
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