|Fifty Years of Church Life
||Golden Jubilee of
Church, of Union Twp.
Johnson Co., Iowa
| The fiftieth anniversary of the organization
of Unity Presbyterian church in Union township, Johnson county, was celebrated in an
appropriate manner last Sunday in a special service at the church. This is one of the
vigorous growing religious organizations of the county, and has contributed much to
the character and worth of its citizenship. At this golden jubilee service the pastor,
Rev. Harrison Scott Condit, delivered the following anniversary address:
Members of the Unity Presbyterian Church and Friends: We are undertaking in this
one brief address to cover the history of this church for fifty years. Of necessity
we can only touch the high places as we rapidly move down the years.
The New School Presbyterians had an organization several years prior to the present
organization. But it had died out. In the spring of 1851 the first Sabbath school was
organized that had to do with the present Unity church. It was held in the old log school
house located about two hundred yards south of the farm home of Geo. Stevens. Mr. Holmes
of Iowa City, assisted in the first organization. Lock Williams was the first superintendent,
Jacob Sehorn librarian. The school continued about seven months.
The following spring the Sabbath school was re-organized with the same officers.
Allison Davis served as superintendent for one of more summers. Iowa City pastors occasionally
preached. From Rev. Shearer's autobiography we learn that he preached in Sehorn's saw
mill, on Old Man's creek, September 2, 1855, and administered the sacrament of the Lord's
In the spring of 1858 the Sabbath school was reorganized in the Union school
house. That was the building that formerly stood on the corner south of the present
church building. It is now used by Elder Davis as a corn crib. Mr. George Shelton, a
member of the Episcopal church, was superintendent for several summers. The school had
a good library. Much attention was given to the memorizing of scripture verses. The
school rewarded the pupils memorizing five hundred or more verses with a book of their
choice from the library. The Methodist people were active in the early days of the school.
Mr. Gardner was superintendent three or four summers and Mrs. Gardner was the leader
of song. After the church was organized, for a number of years, the M. E. pastors from
Iowa City preached alternate Sabbaths with the Presbyterians.
January 29, 1859, in answer to a petition that had been presented to the Presbytery
of Cedar Rapids, which request had been granted, a committee of the Presbytery or rather
one member of it, viz. Elder John Shupe of the first Presbyterian church of Iowa City,
together with Rev. F. A. Shearer, who was then laboring as a missionary for Cedar presbytery,
met the petitioners at the Union school house and proceeded to effect an organization.
After a sermon by Rev. Shearer, the following were admitted as charter members of the
church: William Hanlon, W. B. Hanlon, Charlotte Hanlon, Edward Williams, Phebe C. Williams,
Allison Davis, Polly Sehorn, and Ann Mariah Williams from the First Presbyterian church
of Iowa City, and Moses Hanlon and his wife Rhoda, from a church in Ontario, O. The
newly organized church then proceeded to elect two elders by ballot. Moses and William
Hanlon were elected. These brethren not seeing their way clear to accept the ordination
and installation was postponed until the next day. Monday, the congregation met and
after a sermon by Rev. Shearer, the newly elected elders, under a deep sense of their
unworthiness, having signified their acceptance of the offices, where ordained and installed.
A motion was made and unanimously carried to call the new church Unity.
Of the charter members there is but one now living, viz. Mrs. Ann Mariah Williams,
of Marne, Iowa. She is a sister of our present Senior Elder Thomas O. Thomas. Special
meetings were held the week following the organization, conducted by Doctor Shearer
and on the following Sabbath at a meeting of the session over which Rev. Shearer presided
by request, the following persons were received to the communion of the church on examination:
Milton Davis, David W. Davis, Arminda Davis, Ellen Harris, Susanna Carson, Fidelia Carson,
Mary M. Sehorn, Harriet Thomas, and Eliza Jane Williams. Of these there are still living
the following: David W. and Arminda Davis, who reside at McPherson, Kansas. They celebrated
their golden wedding on January 4th last. He is a half brother to T. T. and R. M. Williams
and Mrs. Hardy, Ellen Harris residing in Iowa City, Fidelia I. Carson (now Mrs. Wood,
a widow, residing at Los Angeles, California), Mrs. Emma Carson of Iowa City, who is
still a member, Eliza Jane Williams (now Mrs. Hardy, the widow of a former pastor of
Rev. F. A. Shearer, who had been for four and a half years pastor of the First
Presbyterian church of Iowa City, had closed his work there and for a number of months
was a missionary of Cedar Presbytery, preached a number of times for the new church.
Rev. McLain, who was an early pastor at Iowa City, also supplied Unity a few
times. Rev. John Hudson supplied for a short time about 60-61.
Rev. Jonathon [sic] Osmond became the first regular supply of the church, serving
Unity in connection with Fairview church. The first session meeting at which he presided
was May, 1867, but from the recollection of the older members of the church and from
Presbyterian Iowa, he must have preached here from 1863 to 1868. During his pastorate
he resided in Iowa City and in order to support his family he also served as county
superintendent of schools. He was a great student and a fine pastor but would not be
classed as a great preacher.
Rev. A. M. Heizer was stated supply following Rev. Jonathan Osmond. He served
the Oxford church in connection with Unity. His was a short pastorate but a very successful
one. He was a fine Sunday school worker and a faithful pastor. It was during his short
pastorate that the church building was erected. He was present and presided at the dedication
of the church on August 23, 1873. The sermon was preached by Rev. Samuel Osmond of Iowa
City, a brother of the former pastor at Unity.
The winter of 1870-71 the Sabbath school continued for the first time throughout
the winter. The attempt was successful and from that time to the present Unity has had
a evergreen Sabbath school. The young people of the Sabbath school organized a Concert
club and gave entertainments to raise money to help build the new church.
The following is a complete list of the Ruling Elders who have served this church:
Moses Hanlon, William Hanlon, James P. Jones, Peter Mooney, Thomas Bowles, Robert D.
Thomas, Thomas O. Thomas, Robert Davis, John Justice, Frank L. Lee, Thomas T. Williams,
E. Fenton, Jacob L. Propst, Earl Custer, and William Breese. For the entire fifty years
of the church's history, the Ruling Elders have been elected for life unless removing
from the community and being dismissed to another church.
REV. H. S. CONDIT
Pastor of Unity Church.
| The present Elders are Thomas O. Thomas, Robt. Davis, Jacob
Propst, William Breese, and Earl Custer.
The first record of a Congregational meeting is March 19, 1872. It was held at
Union school house. The chairman was William F. Buck, and the secretary, John Coldren.
The meeting was held to consider the matter of erecting a church building. A committee,
consisting of T. O. Thomas and T. T. Williams was appointed to consult with a number
of Welsh Congregationalists and propose that they pay five hundred dollars or more toward
the building of the church and that they have the use of it one half of the time. They
were also to have the privilege of selecting one trustee to fill a vacancy then existing.
The plan was to build a church costing about two thousand dollars.
A second meeting date, not given, but evidently held soon after the first records
that the committee reported acceptance of the proposition with the following exceptions:
(1) They to have a written lease for sixty years for half time, (2) The trustees not
to be held responsible for accident to the building. (3) Alternating in use of the church,
morning of one Sabbath and afternoon of the next.
The amended proposition was found agreeable and a committee was appointed to
circulate subscription papers s [sic] follows: John Coldren, T. O. Thomas, T. T. Williams,
T. R. Davis, and William F. Buck.
July 6, 1872, the church was incorporated. The trustees, William F. Buck, David
H. Price, and John Coldren, signing the articles of incorporation for the congregation.
October 9, 1872, the congregation met or rather as the records show, the citizens of
Union township, and a building committee was selected as follows: Roland Reese, Henry
Heiny, and M. H. Carson. T. O. Thomas was elected Treasurer and T. T. Williams secretary.
The trustees wee appointed a committee to draft by-laws. So far as known they have not
yet completed their work.
October 26, 1872, at a Congregational meeting, it was reported that Rowland Reese
declined to serve on the building committee. It would seem that Henry Heiny must also
have declined although the records do not so show for at the close of this Congregational
meeting the building committee were: M. H. Carson, D. R. Lewis, and W. L. Humphreys.
November 9, 1872, D. R. Thomas was elected trustee to take the place of D. H.
Price, who had resigned.
January 13, 1873, at the Congregational meeting the trustees instructed the building
commitee [sic] to let the contract.
February 3, 1873, the congragation [sic] relieved the Welsh Congregationalists
from their subscriptions. It is well to pause here for a little explanation. Over northwest
from the present location of Unity church a number of Welsh Congregationalists had located.
It was with them that negotiations had been pending to share in the building of the
church. These Welsh Congregationalists of their own motion decided that the partnership
planned might prove a source of trouble later on and so withdrew from the contemplated
agreement. But they as individuals subscribed liberally to the building fund and united
with the church becoming efficient workers in the church.
March 25, 1873, D. R. Thomas resigned as trustee and T. T. Williams was elected
to fill the vacancy. D. R. Lewis resigned from the building committee and T. O. Thomas
was given his place.
July 7, 1873, is the first recorded meeting of the trustees. Names are not given.
The one item of business was instruction W. F. Buck to have some alterations made in
the contract in regard to cupola. the minutes are signed by John Coldren, president,
and T. T. Williams, secretary. It is probable that the trustees were: W. F. Buck, John
Coldren, and T. T. Williams.
August 16, 1873, the trustees met and appointed a furnishing committee for the
new church as follows: W. F. Buck, T. O. Thomas, Mrs. Emma Carson, A. J. Tantlinger,
and Mary A. Williams.
The church secured a grant of four hundred dollars from the board of church erection
at the time the church was built. This is the only indebtedness that stands against
the church property today.
More than three years passed before another congregational meeting was held or
at least before any record is made of it.
December, 1876, the congregation met and elected three trustees for one, two,
and three year terms. M. H. Carson was elected for one year. M. A. Murphy for two years,
and T. T. Williams for three years. From December, 1876, to December, 1890, regular
congregational meetings were held for the election of trustees and to fill vacancies
as shown by the records. From December, 1890 to December, 1899, there are no records
of elections. Since that time, with the exception of one year, elections have been held.
The present trustees are J. H. Thomas, John Hughes, and R. M. Williams.
The first installed pastor of Unity church was Rev. David Brown, now pastor of
our church at Hills, Iowa. He served Unity in connection with Oxford from December,
1873 to December, 1883. He is the oldest living ex-pastor. He is a man of a lovable
spirit, a great worker, a splendid pastor, and especially gifted as a leader of the
praise services of the church. He did a splendid work for Unity and is still kindly
remembered by the older members of the church.
Rev. D. B. Flemming was the first pastor residing on the field. He served the
church acceptably for five years--from April, 1884, to April, 1889. He lived in Robert
Davis's old house. He was a man of a fine mind, was loved by the people, but weakness
of the flesh prevented his best work. His wife was a fine worker and organized the ladies
of the church into a missionary society. At the close of their work the church built
Rev. G. M. Hardy served the church from the spring of 1890 to the fall of 1893.
It was after he came to the field that the manse was completed, and wise man that he
was, in not wanting to occupy it alone, he wooed
|| and won one of Unity's splendid your women, Miss Eliza Jane Williams.
So Unity manse was honored in having as the first "Mistress of the Manse"
one of her own daughters and a daughter of two of the charter members of the church.
Mr. Hardy was a scholarly man and did a good work. Mrs. Hardy proved an excellent assistant
and their work at Unity in not forgotten.
Following Rev. Hardy came Rev. J. C. Bantly, who came from Walker and Downey
churches in Dubuque Presbytery. He is now located at Kasson, Minnesota. Rev. Bantly
was installed pastor the afternoon of Nov. 6, 1893, and served the church for eight
years. He and his family are well beloved by the Unity people. He was a good preacher
and an excellent pastor. The church prospered under his ministry. Many of the trees
now in the manse yard were secured from the timber by him and set out to provide shade
for pastors and their families who follow him. He has a reputation as a fine gardener
also, outstripping many in the neighborhood in the quality and quantity of vegetables
Rev. J. R. Vance arrived on the field from Armstrong, Iowa, January, 1902, and
served the church as stated supply till April 23, 1903. During January, 1902, Rev. Vance
conducted a series of meetings in which there were about twenty conversions. Among them
some of the best workers and supporters of the church today. While his service was brief,
lasting only fifteen months, yet he accomplished a good work during his stay and is
very kindly remembered by all of Unity People.
Rev. Charles C. Brown succeeded Rev. Vance, coming to the field from Marne, Iowa.
He began his work August 17, 1903. Was installed October 9, 1903. His father, Rev. David
Brown, who was pastor from '73 to '83, being present at the installation and giving
the charge to the people. He served the church for five years, closing his pastorate
October 1, 1908. During a part of this time he was a student at the state university
of Iowa City. The third year after he came the church reported to Presbytery for the
first time, more than a hundred members. The number being 108. The last report under
Mr. Brown's pastorate shows 129 members. During the five years he served the church
a total of forty were received into the church on profession of faith.
The largest Sabbath school reported to Presbytery was the second year of Rev.
Bantly's pastorate. The total reported for that year being 114. The smallest number
reported since 1894 was during 1905 when seventy were reported. With the exception of
the first year of Mr. Brown's pastorate, the church contributed to all the church boards.
That the church has grown in the grace of giving as she has grown in years is shown
by the reports to the Presbytery. During the ten years form 1891 to 1900 inclusive,
the total contributions for the church boards were $840.00. This included a gift in
1891 of $190 to the board of church erection. In all probability this amount or the
larger part of it was to apply on the loan secured to build the Manse and should not
have been reported as a gift. Allowing five dollars to count as a gift and substracting
[sic] $185 from the $840 we have $655, as the net total to the boards for the ten years
from 1891 to 1900. From 1904 to 1908 inclusive, the five years show a total contribution
to the church boards and synodical fund of $703, or $148 more in the last five years
than the former ten years. This is a showing in the right direction. Rev. C. C. Brown,
like his father before him, was fond of music and made much of his talent in this direction
to help on the work of the church. He also devoted considerable time while on the field
in evangelistic work as a conductor and soloist for pastors in special meetings. His
wife was a great help and did all her strength would allow for the good of the church.
They will long be remembered by the people at Unity.
The present pastor entered upon his work November 1, 1908. He was installed December
18, 1908. The time is too brief to record anything as history. So far as he may have
a part in the development of the church, the future historian must record. He is pleased
at the way the church is standing by him at the beginning of his work. Glad to state
that since he came the church has been nicely frescoed and a fine new lighting system
put in. Bad roads and weather has interferred [sic] seriously with the work but better
days are coming. The Y[?]. P. S. C. E. has undertaken a lecture course this winter for
the first time and are meeting with encouragement.
It might be of interest to some to know that Rev. F. A. Shearer, D. D. who assisted
in the organization of Unity church fifty years ago was later the pastor of the present
pastor's parents and officiated at his baptism in his infancy.
Fifty years of history are made. They were years of glorious achievements. Union
township has been better as a place in which to reside because Unity has lived. The
history of the next fifty years is not made up but a year at a time. Let us be faithful
and have some part, be it ever so small, in making each year a glorious success. Two
sons of former ministers have become pastors. One a pastor of this church, the other
now pastor at Manning. I refer to Rev. C. C. Brown and Rev. Forest A. Heizer. So far
as I know no others have been led from this church to enter upon the sacred calling.
May God grant that the future years will lead many from Unity to enter the ministry
and others to dedicate themselves to some form of missionary work that the world may
the sooner be brought to Christ. If we cannot go I hope we may all do what we can to
send. Unity's immediate future history is for you and I to Make. May it be a glorious
record as recorded at some future date.