BLUFFTON, IND. (WPTA21)-When the germane immigrants who settled Wells County, Indiana arrived in the 1830’s the first thing they did was build log homes. The second thing they did was build their church.
In Rock Creek Township, in the shadow of the graves of those early pioneers sits a remnant of Wells County’s distant history, the Emmanuel Reformed Church, the last in a line of township churches stretching back nearly two hundred years. It was built in 1911 replacing its wooden predecessor but close inspection reveals Emmanuel Reformed has likely reached the end of its life. The roof has rotted, leaking water destroying much of the plaster in the sanctuary, a room still awash in bright color from magnificent stained glass windows. The large windows were replaced after a fire in the 1970’s but the smaller glass is original and much in need of restoration. Just like the rest of the building.
“It’s deteriorated in the past five years really quickly because of the roof leaking and moisture is its biggest enemy,” says cemetery board president Rex Raber. “It’s real sad but it’s kind of a microcosm of what small country churches have become.”
Rex Raber’s ancestors helped settle Rock Creek township. He and the rest of the local community have spent years trying to save Emmanuel Reformed, even offering to sell it for one dollar to anyone who would restore it. There have been no takers. Restoration would cost a small fortune and state and federal grants are only available to churches with active congregations. The cemetery association does what it can to keep the building presentable at least on the outside. But if no one steps up to rescue this historic structure it will likely be demolished very soon.
‘What would you say the chances are that this building can be saved?’ we ask Raber. “Oh, ten percent maybe,” he says. ‘Ten percent that it can be saved?’ “Yeh. Renovating it would be very very expensive.”
If the church is demolished the cemetery board plans to erect a small memorial on site honoring it and those early pioneers who found comfort here, the families who were baptized, married and buried here and who now rest peacefully nearby as the fate of their beloved church plays out.