Methodist Church East of Springfield Stands The Test Of Time
A little ways to the east of the Springfield city limits, in a pastoral, wooded setting, is an old white church, which still holds services every Sunday. The current Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church was built in 1888, just over two decades after the Civil War ended and 50 years after Springfield was incorporated.
The church started as a Methodist Protestant Camp Ground around 1840 where circuit ministers would organize days and nights of non-stop preaching, according to church member Fred Hall. The site was part of the James and White River Circuit, located near the area where Jones Spring Flowed into Pierson Creek.
Tents would sometimes be set up to shelter those who attended.
"They would also use long branches from trees, which they called brush arbors, and those became protection from the sun and maybe a little shower. They'd use that for a roof," said Hall. "Seating would be underneath, and that's where the religious service would occur."
The religious events were a chance for people to get together, according to Hall.
"Young people came to meet one another," he said. "Women came to discuss families or men came to discuss politics, and it was just a great meeting ground."
The Rockbridge Rd. was nearby, which was used to transport goods and settlers between Springfield and Arkansas. And the Turner Family, for which Turner’s Station is named, homesteaded in the area in the 1850s. Their store, which is still in operation today, opened one year after the current Mt. Pisgah church building.
The first Missouri Methodist Protestant Conference took place in or near Mt. Pisgah Camp Ground in 1844. Eight years later, the estate of Addison Pursley sold 40 acres of land to Mt. Pisgah Trustees. Five acres were set aside for the construction of a building to serve as both a church and a school. The structure that was built for that purpose burned down twice and was reconstructed. The Springfield School District closed the one-room Mt. Pisgah School in 1952, and it was torn down.
For a time, after their church burned, members met at Turner’s Station to the west.
The current Mt. Pisgah church was built at a different site as the first buildings but within the original 40 acres.
Eighty-four-year-old Ruth Ellen Deckard has a long history at Mt. Pisgah. Her great-grandmother joined the church in 1894, and her father, mother and grandmother all went there. Deckard joined in 1945 and has been there longer than any other member.
"I was baptized right down there in the creek," said Deckard.
She still has a quilt that members made to raise money for the construction of the current Mt. Pisgah church.
Deckard remembers attending Children’s Day at Mt. Pisgah every June.
"Children's Day you got to get a new dress and shoes and all that," said Deckard. "And then, of course, the children had to put on a program for the adults. Learn speeches and all that."
Deckard’s mother was usually the one who directed all the children.
Nettie Prine attended Mt. Pisgah when her dad, Ralph Turner, was a minister there in the 1930s. She joined the church again in the 1990s and says she and her siblings always felt like it was home. After all, "my mother was a member here before she was married, my grandmother and great-grandmother and grandfather, and it felt like I'm supposed to be here," she said. "And that's why I came back here in my later years."
Her father, Ralph Turner, returned to Mt. Pisgah as a member after he retired, and Deckard used to sing duets with him. She remembers his beautiful tenor voice.
It was Turner who put up an old rugged cross outside the church.
Other features outside the church date back to the building’s early years.
Looking out the south windows of the church, Deckard said, "you see those stone blocks? There's three of them there. Those were hitching posts."
Deckard pointed to holes at the top of each of those posts, which used to have a chain or rope attached to them.
"And that's where they tied their buggies," she said.
Mt. Pisgah members take pride in their historic church, which sees an average Sunday morning attendance of between 15 to 25.
Recently, the Stukely Wescott Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Colonists erected an historical marker at Mt. Pisgah, which lets visitors know the church’s history.
Pat Haas, member of the organization that installed the historical marker, lives across the road on land her husband, Jim’s family has owned since the 1930s. It was Pat who suggested they put up a marker at the church.
"Because it's so rich in history, so many things went on in this area, you know, beginning with the camp ground and the wagon trails and the school and so forth," she said. "We thought it was worthy of being marked."
For Ruth Deckard, attending Mt. Pisgah is a family affair. Her son leads the singing and serves as chairman of the board of trustees, and her daughter plays the piano.
Shaundell Hall is Fred Hall’s daughter and is also a member of Mt. Pisgah. Their family left the church for awhile when she was younger, but they eventually returned.
"It's a place that people can still come every week," she said. "People know each other and care about each other, and it kind of replaces some of those social connections that have been lost."
An ice cream social is still held each summer—an event that dates back several decades. This year’s event is set for August 17 at 5 p.m. Wilson's Creek National Battlefield purchased a museum containing thousands of Trans Mississippi artifacts collected by Dr. Tom Sweeney and his wife, Karen, in 2005.