In northern Clay County, not far from the Clay-Parke County line, sits a small simple white frame country church that has been there amid the nearby farms since 1855.
The church, located off the Harmony Road in Van Buren Township, has not been without tough times. In fact, in the late 1800s, the church organization weakened and almost disbanded.
Late in the 1960s the church, which started out as United Brethren and later merged with United Methodist, almost closed for good. Church members were determined that wasn’t going to happen and chose for themselves an independent status. The United Methodist Conference was going to close the church. A lawsuit originated from that. This prayerfully, firm-rooted, dedicated group fought to keep their church doors opened with support given from Ralph Mc Queen, a church member and local attorney, who represented the church during the hearing in Rockville on December 2, 1969. The Indiana Supreme Court made a decision, and it went to the U. S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear it. The church folks were given the church property, which the conference tried to take from the trustees,
A couple of people who have attended Ebenezer Church longer than anyone are Audie Girton, 91, and Harold Parr, both of whom joined the church about 1922. Among the approximately 190 members of Ebenezer Church are several descendants of the original founders: Joy McQueen Lash and her sister, Oletta McQueen Salitros, great-granddaughters of Hiram McQueen.
A longtime tradition at Ebenezer Church is its Ladies Aid Society. Minutes still exist from a 1904 meeting of the group, which creates memorable quilts and lap robes for residents in nursing homes and donates to the Clay County Food Pantry among other activities.
Other minutes from church activities long ago detail information from a Sunday School meeting of June 29, 1890. A total of forty-three people were present, according to the minutes, which note “that when the collection plate was passed that day, the yield was twenty-five cents. The weather that day was fair and warm.”
According to the prepared church history, Ebenezer Church started from a neighboring community of people in the home of founding member, John Pell, Sr., in 1839, as a Primitive Methodist Church Society of Van Buren Township. Other founding members were, David Buck, Maria Buck, Samuel Buck, Rebecca Pell, William F. Pell, Nancy Pell, John Orme, Margaret Orme, John C. Stallcop, Mary Jane Stallcop, Kate Armstrong, and Nancy J. McQueen.
The church history records the name “Ebenezer” meaning “stone of help,” which comes from the book of 1 Samuel, Chapter 4. Ebenezer was the place at which the army of Israel was encamped while going into battle against the Philistines.
The original church building was erected and dedicated in 1855 at a cost of $1,250.00 and has had several improvements to its structure through the years.
Source: History of Ebenezer Church, “Clay County Today,” and Terre Haute Tribune-Star, March 31, 1994. Submitted by: Jo Ann Pell