The desire for a place for God—one where we can worship and remember God’s victories and care for the congregation is nothing new. The First Testament is replete with descriptions of altars built by Abraham, Isaac, the people of Israel, and many others, as they set themselves to commemorate God’s involvement in their lives.
In the wilderness Moses brought instructions to the people on building the Tabernacle, as God promised, “…make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The people joined together, bringing from their stores materials as God had instructed, to build the portable furniture and tent that traveled with the people and was set up when they pitched camp.
Many years later, under King Solomon, once again the people brought their gifts to the building of the great Temple dedicated to God’s glory and presence in Jerusalem. In fact, throughout the First Testament the people were often challenged to bring from their own possessions and finance to support a place of worship, a place where God’s people could gather together.
Building a church, whether speaking of the spiritual church comprised of people of faith or of the physical building in which they worship, can be a tremendous challenge and requires much faith and prayer. The first building occupied by Ebenezer was no different. Completing a place of worship in early Greenfield required sacrifice and generosity and brought the community together.
The fledgling congregation of Ebenezer Presbyterian was first led by Rev. Valentine Pentzer, who labored with them for three years. Following him was Reverend John McFarland who became pastor in 1848 and served until 1860.
Having worshiped in the home of the Rankin family from its inception, the congregation longed for its own facility. Under Rev. McFarland, a plan was put in place to erect a house of worship, built of brick, on the lot where the current building stands, but farther back. Pioneers all, such an endeavor was a tremendous one. Money was scarce for many in those days. The solicitor for the building program was having difficulty in raising money and appealed to those in the congregation and the region for assistance.
One individual who made the building possible was Elder James M. Mitchell. One of the early lay leaders in the church, he donated over $600 for the building, along with the gift of a tract of land. A man of faith and leadership, many of his descendants still reside in this area.
Although many contributed to the building fund, there is another who must be recognized in this article. Hearing of the financial difficulty, one woman came forward. In the membership roster there appears the name “Hanna (negro slave).” In fact, Hanna Cowan had been freed in Tennessee, but she “came with her young master to Missouri and lived with the family until her death.” The solicitor had been visiting the Cowan home, speaking with the Cowans about their part in the fund. He had not presented the challenge to Hanna, but upon hearing of it, “she walked in with a half dollar in her hand, which she had taken from her scanty store, and said, ‘Will this put in one brick?’”
There were others outside of the congregation who contributed to the building of the church, but this will be discussed in the next installment.
Paul instructs the Corinthians, in his first letter in the New Testament, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free —and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many (12:12-14). It is passages such as this that challenged the early founders of Ebenezer, and continues to challenge all believers, to contribute freely as they were able to the work of God. While James Mitchell was able to give much, Hanna Cowan gave what was much to her, so the congregation could have a place for God’s worship.
Jesus, himself, spoke of this when he witnessed the widow bring her offering: “But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:42-44).
What gifts do you bring to God today? You are a part of the Body when your life is in Christ, and as a part of that body, everything you possess, and everything you are, is a part of what God is doing in the church and in the world. What do you bring, not just financially or materially, to God today? Whatever gift you have received from God, I challenge you today to share that gift with others in the church and outside, that God might be glorified and the body of Christ be strengthened.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
P.O. Box 393
Greenfield, MO 65661