History of the Church
Roanoke Seminary United Methodist Church traces its beginning to a United Brethren organization founded by Rev. John Surran in 1844. John G. Dinius and Martin and Harry Bash were members. Two years later, in 1846, a frame church was erected on North Main Street. (This building was later used as a Methodist church.)
The growing church eventually moved to Roanoke Classical Seminary chapel, where it remained for several years. A parsonage was completed in 1900 for $1,700. The seminary moved to North Manchester in 1893, but the church continued in the chapel until 1903. During this period the congregation was expanding rapidly, and as Mr. Ervin Richards, a trustee, said, “We found that we paid for the new parsonage so easily that when brother Goshert (Rev. J. L. Goshert, pastor through 1903) suggested and promoted the construction of a new church building we were ready to go ahead and build.”
The cornerstone of the present building was laid in 1902, with Bishop Ezekiel B. Gephart in charge of service. During the construction, the congregation med in Richards’ Hall on Main Street. On completion of the project, first services were held June 9, 1903, by Bishop William M. Bell. Bishop Bell was a product of the Roanoke Classical Seminary, so it was fitting that he officiate. Those present remembered the occasion as a day of great spiritual uplift and blessing.
Of special interest in the new church were the memorial windows, which still exist. One window in the main entrance, called the Students’ Memorial, has as its centerpiece a good picture of the old Seminary. Two larger windows in the sanctuary have memorials. The large on to the north ahs a Grand Army of the Republic emblem, a Women’s Relief Corps memorial, and a Christian Endeavor emblem. The large window on the east side of the sanctuary has representations of the Holy Bible, cross, dove, and crown.
C.E. Nicodemus was the building contractor, and trustees were S.B. Dinius, P.B. Settlemyer, E.M. Wasmuth, E.E. Richards, and Jacob W. John.
In building the church, the congregation omitted a basement for economy’s sake. However, in 1914, one of the Sunday School classes began a drive that resulted in the installation of the basement. The male members of the class actually did a great deal of the physical labor, using picks and shovels and wheelbarrows to remove the earth from beneath the building. Many blistered hands and sore muscles later, they had made a hole large enough in the northwest corner of the building – where the kitchen is now- to admit a horse. The horse, owned by Charles Fosnaugh of Mahon, pulled a scraper to remove the dirt. Later the parsonage was remodeled with installation of electric lights, a furnace, and a bathroom.
After a quarter of a century in the building, the congregation voted to add Sunday School facilities. This program, under the pastorate of Rev. Arthur F. Knepp, began in April 1, 1929, and resulted in the building of six classrooms, two assembly rooms, and discontinuing the use of the hot air gravity heating system by installing the present hot water system. A pipe organ was installed, and the basement was enlarged. The organist at this time was Helen Witherow.
In 1940 Bishop H. H. Fout appointed Rev. Charles White to the Roanoke United Brethren Church, and under his leadership, remodeling was planned and completed. Included where new chancel furniture, alter, lectern, candelabra, and vestments for the choir and clergy. The parsonage was also remodeled; Bishop Fred L. Dennis, D. D., redirected it on Sunday, Jan. 11, 1942.
On June 4, 1944, and outstanding event took place- celebration of the centennial fo the Roanoke United Brethren Church. Preparations included rebuilding the cement steps at the front and side entrances of the church, placing new, large cement walks from the building to the street and new walks along the street, replacing the old walks in front of the building, a new baptismal font, landscaping around the building, rewiring, and regulating the pipe organ. An unknown donor presented new hymnals, and a number of members provided new robes for the choir. New Eucharistic candlesticks were purchased for the altar. The parsonage was renovated inside and painted on the exterior, and other small improvements too numerous to list were made.
In 1946, the Evangelical Church and United Brethren Church met in Johnstown, Penn., where the common German-American heritage had begun, and voted to unite as the Evangelical United Brethren Church. No Evangelical congregation existed in Roanoke, so the only changes for the local body were administrative and minor.
In 1960, during the pastorate of Rev. Alva Ward, a church annex was built consisting of three Sunday School rooms, two restrooms, and a Fellowship Hall on the lower level.
The 20 year old union of the Evangelical Church and United Brethren Church began a transformation in 1966, when at the 41st General Conference of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, in Chicago, the delegates voted to merge with the Methodist Church. This union became official in April 1968 at a conference in Dallas attended by Rev. John Davis, pastor at the time.
On Sunday, May 12, 1968, the congregation voted to adopt the name Seminary United Methodist Church, and on Sunday, May 19, celebrated the merger with a communion service at Christ’s United Methodist Church and a march from that church to the newly named Seminary United Methodist Church. Rev Davis, led the march.
In the summer of 1974 during the pastorate of Rev. Charles Hill, the Noel Richards home near the church was purchased as a parsonage, and in 1975 the old parsonage was razed, making way for a much needed parking lot. Also, in July 1974, wall-to-wall carpeting and new pews and chancel furniture were installed in the church, all of which greatly enhanced the beauty of the sanctuary.
Remodeling and enlargement of the church kitchen began in June 1982. Completed in 1983, the project included new sinks, a new stove with four ovens, a new freezer and refrigerator, steam table and serving table. Memorial funds and the church’s United Methodist Women’s organization made these improvements possible. Meals could now be served to the public.
Two hundred years of Methodism were celebrated in 1984. Seminary Church joined with Pleasant Chapel, Zion, and Christ’s United Methodist for an afternoon of family fellowship on June 3. Rev. Edward Geleske was pastor at that time.
In 1986 a new roof was put on the Fellowship Hall, and in 1991, under the leadership of Rev. Glenda Woodcox, a new console for the pipe organ was purchased and installed for $6,816. Gifts in memory of loved ones from as far away as Florida made this possible. Mr. William E. Stout gave a recital. The console is beautiful and blends very well with the other furnishings.
Also in 1991, a new sound system was installed with $2,000 donated by Mrs. Robert Welker. New steps to the parking lot wer built at no cost to the church – W W Concrete donated the material, Amick Welding furnished the handrails, and the trustees provided the labor.
A history such as this seems to focus predominately on material gains. However, anyone who has been associated with the church has fond memories of people and events that have enriched their lives - a Sunday School class, a teacher, youth groups, choir, a pastor, a sermon, or simply the Christian fellowship that abounds at Seminary United Methodist Church.
The church started as a United Brethren organization and has gone through three name changes, but it has never changed its goal of bringing Christ to the Roanoke community.