At barely ten thousand people Van Wert, Ohio is one of the most historic and most interesting towns in 21 country. Van Wert was surveyed in 1824, its name coming from one of the crucial events of the American Revolution, the capture of British spy Major John Andre in New York by three American patriots, John Paulding, David Williams and Isaac Van Wart. Andre's capture exposed Benedict Arnold's treason, saved the American fort West Point on the Hudson River and saved the Revolution. Van Wert was named for Isaac van Wort, spelling error and all, and over the years became a world center of peony production, the Peony Festival started in 1932 is still held every summer. Van Wert is home of the very first county supported public library in the country, the Brumback Library. Thousands of counties including Allen in Indiana copied the model. America owes very much to this little building.
And in 1840 Van Wert's Methodists built their first church at the corner of Jackson and Jefferson Streets. In 1876 they replaced it with this.
“God desires for his people to gather together in worship and in growing together,” says Pastor Chris Farmer.
For 150 years worshipers have gathered at the First United Methodist Church on West Central Avenue, worshiping under the magnificent hard wood ceiling made from locally harvested oak trees. And gathering under the watchful eyes of gorgeous stained glass windows. This church has been the social and cultural center for its congregation in good times and, now, in not so good times...its food pantry feeding dozens of local families.
“We have poverty here in Van Wert,” says church volunteer Teresa Shafer. “We are trying to help reach out to those families who are struggling.”
First United supports a local thrift store, provides Sunday school classes and instruction and mentors teens with attractions like the new movie theatre.
“We are united in providing relational bridges for people to connect with God,” says Pastor Farmer, “and for us to connect with each other.”
In times like the current corona virus pandemic people cling to those sentiments even more dearly and this church, like so many in 21 Country, have stepped up to live out their creed by practicing what they preach. This is Eric Olson reporting.