Largely French and Spanish, the overwhelming religion of the Missouri Territory was Roman Catholic. However, after the War of Independence, many Protestants sought to immigrate there. The Spanish encouraged this to bolster the economic success of these settlements but set restrictions against Protestant services in the colony; yet, the restrictions were rarely enforced and itinerant Protestant ministers often visited the settlements, and after the War of Independence was won, many Protestants sought to immigrate into the Missouri Territory.
Louisiana became a state in 1812, and, again, southerners poured into the Missouri Territory between 1804-21. Missouri applied for statehood in 1818, but did not become a state until 1820 with the Missouri Compromise, allowing it to enter as a slave state, with Maine entering as a free state, to preserve the balance. In the southwest area of the territory, the organization of Dade County was approved on February 15, 1841.
Although the area offered much through nature, these were still pioneers, people who learned to do much with little and to live off the land. Life was rewarding but hard, perhaps much like modern television shows such as “Little House on the Prairie.” The settlers worked hard, but they needed one another, as well. Many of the pioneers brought their most treasured possession, their faith, which no doubt helped them through those early years.
As stated last week, in 1819 the United Foreign Missions Society sent men to explore the Missouri Territory with an eye toward “foreign missions.” A mission was established, but by 1836 the mission was given up and the work for the Indians was abandoned, stating that “very little, to human view has been accomplished.” (Stringfield). Although the mission was abandoned, those who settled there remained, and those families remaining became the nucleus of various churches in the region.
In 1842, 28 individuals called on the Rev. W. B. Bell to organize an Old School Presbyterian church, the first in this region. (The Cumberland Presbyterian Church had been organized a few years previous.) The church was started in the home of Polly, Margaret, and J. M. Rankin, who had moved here from Tennessee, and for 12 years this church family worshiped, worked, and grew in that home until they were able to secure their own building for the church. The elders ran the church for the first two years until 1844 when the first pastor came to serve the church, Rev. Valentine Pentzer.
Those appearing on the first roll of the church were John M. Rankin, Polly D. Rankin, Nathan Wilkinson Sr., Nathan Wilkinson Jr., Rebecca Wilkinson, Jane Wilkinson, Nancy Morris, John Tarbot, Mary Tarbot, Jacob Montgomery, Rachel Montgomery, Ann A Montgomery, Nancy S. Davidson, W. W. Rankin, Margaret D. Rankin, Margaret Gardner, James Sharp, Alfred Cowan, Jane Cowan, Hannah (negro slave), Mary Weir Sr., Betsy Wilkinson, Sarah Wilkinson, Mary Bowers, Thomas Ross, Sarah C. Ross, Margaret Rutledge, George Rutledge.
Upon the organizational meeting of the church, it was asked what the church was to be called, and John M. Rankin arose and in a voice trembling with emotion said, “Let it be Ebenezer, for hitherto the Lord hath helped us.” This year the Ebenezer Presbyterian congregation celebrates 170 years of ministry and worship in Greenfield. God has helped us throughout these 170 years, through good times and lean times, through growth and loss. In everything, when we turn our eyes to our Lord, God has been faithful to carry us through.
Literally meaning “stone of help,” my prayer is that each of you reading this history would have the same testimony of Mr. Rankin, that God has been your help. But, if not, today is not too late for you to call on God with all your heart, as these people did. There is nothing too horrible or too hard that God cannot help you through it, no place too lonely that God cannot be there with you. Are you seeking that “stone of help” in your life? Why not join us on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. as we call on God together?
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor email@example.com
P.O. Box 393 Greenfield, MO 65661
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church original documents.
History of Dade County and her People (located online)
Stringfield, Presbyterianism in the Ozarks.