A group of the regulars at Trenton United Methodist Church gathered Dec.30 to celebrate a New Year. Following worship they shared time in conversation, in board games, and enjoyed lunch.
Aside from just New Year’s, it is for the congregation a new year, the beginning of the 125th year of its existence as a congregation. Dec 30, 1893, was the date on handwritten papers of incorporation, filed by six local Christian citizens who established the second congregation in Trenton.
The first congregation in town was Presbyterian, with roots to 1841. They probably met in their homes, perhaps in the (former) brick place on the west side of the park. In time the congregation purchased from town developer George Miller for $10 two lots on the east end of town on which they built a church building in 1869. They worshipped there for almost 20 years, but by 1888, their numbers had fallen to 8. They fell from the record books, and the only church in town closed.
Green Mound Church of God began in the mid-1830s but it was a mile and a quarter west of town, a significant distance in days when there were communities about every 4-6 miles, and roads were dirt paths. Trenton was on a westward travel route, was a trade center, had been a candidate for county seat, and was proposed as a place for a railroad stop. Although the last two did not materialize, the local citizens must have reasoned that there ought to be a church in town. Certainly a suitable building was available, and may have been used for town meetings otherwise. The same citizens surely noted churches at Green Mound, Finley Chapel, Prairie Gem, Richwoods, Mt. Ayr, White Oak, Rome, West Highland, and Oakland Mills, as well as several in Mt. Pleasant, and thought, “Why not, indeed?” Seven of the those churches were Methodist church congregations, so why not a Methodist Church in Trenton? They incorporated themselves as a congregation of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
There is record of the same citizens meeting as early as 1892 — four years after the Presbyterian congregation closed. Some may have been a part of that congregation. The citizens must have done some organizing during 1892-1893, because on Jan. 4, 1894, the same day that the incorporation papers were recorded at the Henry County Court House, the same new church congregation executed and recorded a warranty deed for the purchase of real estate. They bought the empty church building and property on the east end of town for $175. Now they were committed in a new way to a church congregation in Trenton.
Methodist preachers in those days were appointed to a collection or a circuit of small congregations in a general area. Trenton was first affiliated with the Mount Pleasant West Circuit, which typically had four congregations and had included Rome, West Highland, Oakland Mills, Donaldson Chapel, Glasgow, and Eureka, at different times, as well as Trenton. After that Trenton was a part of the Wayland Circuit, later known as the New Life Parish that included Cottonwood, Finley Chapel, and Wayland First. Through the years, Trenton was also served periodically by pre-ministry students enrolled at Iowa Wesleyan who were planning to enroll in seminary after graduation.
Things must have gone fairly well because the new congregation used the old building for about 20 years, and then they remodeled it for the (then) enormous sum of $3,000. In the process they changed the design and character dramatically. The sanctuary today still reflects that 1915 remodeling, so for one hundred three years, to date, it appears that they have their money’s worth! Except for a very old postcard that turned up in a private collection, no one would know what the original building looked like. It was fairly simple and plain — think Richwoods or Old Threshers’ Center Chapel.
Today the building includes a useful addition completed in 2009 that incorporates full accessibility. The fact that the sanctuary is within the original 1869 construction means that the congregation worships in what may be the second-oldest church building in Henry County.
Some smaller congregations — and some larger congregations — have had difficulties in recent years with lack of interest, lack of neighborhood support, and general unwillingness to commit. Smaller congregations see this more quickly than larger ones due to the small family makeup. When you are not there, they know it immediately! Trenton has striven to look beyond itself to serve imaginatively. Indeed, the people have surprised themselves and challenged their neighbors with some of their gifts. The congregation is home to some excellent and outstanding cooks, and this congregation loves serving good food!
With respect to services of worship, this church family has avoided the difficulties of electronics in favor of more tangible methods of sharing worship. As a congregation of the United Methodist Church, a Christian denomination, all people regardless of faith background or life circumstances, are welcome to worship and to pursue an experience with God through a personal relationship with the Savior, Christ Jesus. Worship at Trenton is at 9 Sunday mornings, with Sunday school following. Children are welcomed and seniors are appreciated.
In addition to the pancake breakfast, the Easter breakfast, the ice cream social, and the chili supper, throughout this 125th year, the congregation will host several additional public events to acknowledge and celebrate the gifts they have shared. For next year and beyond? Well, they say they will do their best to pursue that with a 20/20 vision!