MIDDLETOWN — One hundred chrysanthemums, in a host of autumn colors, will fill Sixth Street Christian Church in Middletown on Sunday. The mums will be placed throughout the church, dressing up the sanctuary, entryway and fellowship space to mark a very special day. It’s been 100 years since the brick church building’s construction in 1913.
Although a hundred years have passed since the bricks were laid, the history of Sixth Street Church actually goes back much further. The church itself was founded 181 years ago. Meetings started out in 1832, taking place in a home.
In 1850, members raised their first building on the site at 146 N. Sixth St. The frame building stood until it was moved east of Middletown, and the brick building was constructed in its place.
“It’s a congregation that’s held together for a long time,” said Jane Young, who is part of the committee organizing the centennial celebrations. The Rev. C. Maynard Powell currently serves as minister to the church.
“We are a very open congregation — people who enjoy each other and the fellowship we have together, but are very committed to serving,” observed Powell.
The current building has seen its share of changes over the last century. In 1963, an education wing was built, accommodating several classrooms. In 2004, a new entryway was constructed including an elevator making it easier for members to access the lower level.
The centennial event will be marked with a special celebration on Sunday with worship, song, food and fellowship. The service will include a reading of the dedication vows which were read at the dedication service 100 years ago. David Livingston, former minister of the Greenfield Christian Church, and current chairman of the commission Ministry of the Region of Indiana, will be guest speaker.
A song has been especially composed for the centennial service by Eric Wilson. Based on Psalm 150, the song will be performed by the Sixth Street Christian Church choir.
Powell has ministered to Sixth Street Christian for 15 years. At age 75, he looks back, laughingly noting that he intended to retire at age 65.
“I’m having the time of my life,” said the ebullient pastor. In addition to shepherding his congregation of about 75 members, he gets in a couple of miles each day at Mounds State Park. “I intended to retire, but the energy and creativity is still here.”
Powell will display some of that verve Sunday when he performs with his acoustic jam band, Roots and Branches. With a little bit of blues, Celtic, Cajun and old mountain gospel all in the mix, Powell said, “They have described us as the Grateful Dead of gospel music.” Guest speaker Livingston happens to play bass in the group that also includes fiddle, accordion, keyboard, dobro and guitar.
The musical entertainment comes after the old-fashioned pitch-in dinner furnished by the Christian Women’s Fellowship following the worship service.
“We’re not as traditional as a lot of churches and yet we have a lot of tradition,” observed Powell.
Powell himself is coming up on an anniversary of his own. Come this spring, he’ll mark 50 years in the ministry. Originally from Fredericksburg, Md., Powell studied engineering at Virginia Tech. He served as a mechanical engineer in the Navy. The pastor did his graduate work at Northwestern University and was ordained in 1964 when civil rights issues dominated American culture.
“I stepped into the middle of that,” said Powell. “That’s when my education started.” He said he went to the predominately black city of Petersburg, Va., to minister to a predominately white congregation.
“I went there specifically to integrate that congregation,” said Powell. By the time Powell and his wife, Mary, came to Middletown, they felt as if they had finished their mission, but 15 years later, they are still on the job and looking forward to Sunday’s celebration.
“This is a very open, ecumenical church,” said Powell. “We’re a church that reaches out into the community a lot.”
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