An Historical Overview
Several years ago Oklahoma proudly celebrated its 100th year of statehood. Nearly ten years prior to statehood, a small group of pioneers, many from Nebraska and mostly of German descent, settled on farms a east of Avery, now referred to in some publications as a ghost town, although several families still reside there. The group of settlers, mostly farmers, started one of the first Bible churches in the area where scripture readings from both the Old and New Testaments and the Psalms are still read regularly every Sunday more than 110 years later.
Four acres of land was donated by one of the farmers and a church was built on the corner of the property and a parsonage was built on the opposite side of the property with a cemetery in between. The first major church building, with a tall steeple, wood burning stove, and kerosene lamps hung from the high ceiling was typical of country churches in the plains states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the late teens, as the pastor of the congregation was burning grass on the property, the church building caught fire and burned to the ground. A similar church was built and completed in the early twenties. The growing congregation added a wing and redesigned the entrance and steeple in the early fifties. In the 1960’s an old one room school house was moved in and connected to the church building to serve as a fellowship hall. In the 1990’s, an addition was added with Sunday school rooms and handicapped accessible restrooms.
In the early days, the church served as the center of the community and as a social network. Traditions were started, some of which remain today. Many members lived within a few miles of the church and could hear the church bell from home. Brides traditionally left home for their wedding when they heard the bell ring. When someone died, whether during the day or in the middle of the night, the church bell rang one toll for each year of the deceased’s life. This tradition continues, except that the bell is tolled at the funeral as the family enters the Sanctuary. For many years, the congregation also held New Year’s Eve watch parties with games food, and fellowship. A worship service started before midnight and ended after so that members could end one year and begin the next in worship.
Today, the church struggles as do many Christian churches. Demographics and priorities have changed. Farming in this area was once very diversified with small farms raising cattle, hogs, chickens, sheep, cotton, corn, wheat, oats and hay. Now the area has become mostly grassland with cow/calf operations and fewer farmers. The congregation searches for ways to best serve the needs of the changing community. But always throughout its 110 years, the church has read the scriptures and preached the Word of God and tried “to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) with their God.
The Church still faithfully stands with its steeple and bell. Far from the sounds of its call, most of the thousand or so souls that it has touched are deceased or scattered throughout the land. But the bell still chimes each Sunday morning calling people to worship and if you ever want to experience worship in a small country church with a non-judgment community of sinners, you are always welcome at Immanuel “God With Us” Lutheran Church.