This church was organized on the 27th day of April, 1816, at the residence of Mr. Alexander Lewis, with seven members, to-wit: Brethren John Vawter, William T. Stott, William Padget, and sisters Mary Stott, Margaret Stribling, Nancy Lewis and Anna Padget; all bearing letters of dismission from the Mt. Pleasant Church, Jefferson county, Indiana. They adopted the Articles of Faith entertained by the Silver Creek Association; agreeing in their covenant with each other, to meet once in each month for the transaction of such business as properly belong to a church and its members.
For the space of two years, the church met from house to house. and on the 3d Saturday in May, 1818, the Church Record shows that they met "at tIle meeting house," which was only a school house, the use of which was obtained for the time being. The church continued to meet in this house until it became too small to meet the wants of the increasing population of the infant town and surrounding country. They then obtained the use of the Court House, in which they met until they erected a permanent house of worship in 1825; it being the first church edefice [sic] built in Vernon. For a period of about forty-six years the church has occupied this house, which, on account of decay, has also become unfit for further use as a house of worship; and on the 10th day of July, 1871, the workmen employed, commenced removing the old building, preparatory to the erection of a new house on the same site. The new building to be 40 1/2 by 70 feet, brick walls, 20 feet between the floor and ceiling, tower 50 feet high, all to be completed by the 1st day of January, 1872.
At the first session of the Silver Creek Association, after the organization of the church, a letter, bourne by brethren John Vawter and Wm. T. Stott, was presented to that body, asking admission, in which she represented herself until the organization of the Coffee Creek Association, in 1827, when she became a member of that body and maintained her connection therewith until 1832, when the Madison Association was formed by this and eleven other churches, in which connection she still remains.
John Vawter was the first pastor of the church. He was licensed to preach, on the 3d Saturday in May, 1817, and ordained to the work of the ministry, on the 3d Saturday in May, 1821. Previous to his ordination, the church was supplied by Elders Jesse Vawter, Thomas Hill, sr., and James Alexander, in the administration of the ordinances. Eld. John Vawter, after his ordination, continued his labors in connection with the church, until 1825, when he asked for, and obtained a letter of dismission, and united with the Concord Church, an infant organization, about seven miles east of Vernon.
Wm. T. Stott was licensed to preach, in 1820, and was ordained as minister of the Gospel, on the 3d Saturday in November, 1825. He was then called to the pastorate, and served the church with marked faithfulness for twenty-five years.
Eld. M. B. Phares, in December, 1850, accepted a call from the church, and for the space of four years, labored acceptably with the church as pastor, preaching, a portion of the time, two and the remainder three Sabbaths in each month.
Eld. Wm. T. Stott, being re-called, on the third Saturday in November, 1854, resumed the pastorate of the church, and continued to serve the church until the third Saturday in December, 1866. During much of the time of Eld. Stott's pastorate, he preached two Sabbaths in each month.
Eld. Thos. Hill accepted a call of the church, and commenced pastoral labor on the 3rd Saturday in December, 1866, and continued his labors in connection with the church three years, preaching four Sabbaths in each month the first year and three the remaining two years.
Again Eld. Wm. T. Stott supplied the church until May, 1870, when Eld. A. J. Essex, our present pastor accepted the call of the church preaching two Sabbaths in each month.
Eld. Wm. T. Stott was the first deacon of the church. He was set apart to that service the 1st Saturday in August, 1816, and in May, 1818, deacon James Butler united with the church by letter, and served the church in that capacity during his connection with her. In June, 1828, Bro. Richard Stott was set apart to the deaconship, and served the church in that capacity until his death, which occurred on the 20th day of April, 1866, in the 7lst year of his age.
Bro. Joseph Cowell, now is, and has been for many years, a deacon of the church; the time of his ordination can not be determined with certainty. On tile 19th day of August, 1866, Bro. James M. Hill was ordained to fill the vacancy occasioned by the death of deacon Stott; and on the 18th day of July, 1869, Bro. James Tate was ordained a deacon.
We have already alluded to the ordination of Elders John Vawter and Wm. T. Stott. Eld. John Vawter continued his residence at Vernon until 1848, when he moved with his family to Morgantown, Ind., where he continued to labor untiringly [sic] in the service of his Master, until, "like a shock of corn fully ripe," he was gathered to his Fathers. He died on the 17th day of August, 1862, in the 82d year of his age, closing a long and eminently useful life.
Eld. Wm. T. Stott still lives. Of the seven members with whom the church was first organized, he is the only one now living. He is now in the 84th year of his age. His long and useful life, with marked devotion, has been spent in his Masters service. Like Timothy, "from a child he has known the scriptures," having united with the church in the 13th year of his age; and for more than fifty years he has been actively engaged in the ministry. In addition to his pastoral and missionary labors, he was for many years Moderator of the Madison Association. John B. New was ordained a minister in connection with this church, but soon after severed his connection with the church by uniting with another denomination.
Brethren William Vawter and Caleb Moncrief were licensed by this church and ordained after their connection with other churches. Eld. Joel Butler united with this church by letter, when far advanced in life, and after a few years of labor, died on the 13th day of September, 1822, closing a long and useful life: being, at the time of his death, 71 years of age. The following extract from a brief memoir of his life, may not be uninteresting: "In April. 1777, he was brought to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, and joined the Presbyterian church in that place (Windsor, Vermont). He, however, began to have doubts of the propriety of infant baptism, and some other doctrins [sic] and practices to which Presbyterians adhere; after continuing with them three years, was baptized by immersion and became a member of the Baptist church." Brethren I. Blankinship and J. B. Potter, licentiates, had membership with this church for a time, when the church had much need of faithful, earnest laborers. In the prime of life these faithful men of God were removed by death. Of the foregoing list of ministers, Eld. Wm. T. Stott only remains.
James S. Read was ordained a minister of the Gospel, on the 15th of February, 1851. Since his ordination his time has been mainly devoted to the ministry and cause of education; and at the present time is thus employed in the State of Delaware; having taken a letter of dismission from this church.
In July, 1859, Eld. James B. Swincher united with this church by letter. On the 3d Saturday in September, 1860, he was called to preach for the church one Sabbath in each month, which, for several years he continued to do to the edification and comfort of the church. In addition to his ministerial labors, his services in the prayer meetings have been and still are invaluable to the Church.
FIELD OF LABOR AND PRIVATIONS OF THE EARLY MINISTERS.
Soon after the organization of the church at Vernon, settlements began to dot the surrounding country. These were confined to what then seemed the most inviting spots; mainly contiguous to the various water courses within the present limits of Jennings county; and often separated by miles of almost treadless forests, covered with water during much of the year, rendering travel, from one settlement to another, difficult and laborious. Many such points existed at an early day around Vernon, requiring and receiving attention and labor from the early missionaries of the Cross. After a week of toil the faithful minister of the Gospel, might be seen leaving his family in their little log cabin home, and treading his way on horse-back, or may be on foot, to one of' these points to preach the unreachable riches of Christ. A log school house or private dwelling of the same style of architecture, or else the shady grove, was the first temples in which these people met to worship. We love to contemplate the untiring devotion and self-sacrifice, often under the most discouraging circumstances, of the early ministers of the Gospel. They were inured to toil and much privation, inseperably [sic] connected with a pioneer settlement, which fitted them to endure the fatigues of long and frequent journies [sic], over roads or foot-paths, almost impassable, to reach the scattered and distant settlements. Often the minister, in order that his faithful horse, which had been harnessed to the plough during the week, might have rest, would travel miles on foot to meet his engagements.
Brethren, let us pause here and enquire "what hath God wrought" through the instrumentality of these men? Now cities, towns and rural districts, supplied with commodious houses of worship, greet the traveler and citizen, and improved dirt roads, gravel, turnpike and railroads cross each other, at convenient distances, all over our country. But where are those devoted men of God, who have bourne the burden and heat of the day, and the faithful few who gathered around them, and supported them with their prayers and sympathy? (for they had but little else to give, and the minister did not expect more). But few remain; here one and there another may be seen -- pilgrim, indeed, with staff in hand to support their tottering steps; the rest have gone home; their memory embalmed in many hearts. For those who still live, a solemn duty remains for us. They are a blessing to the church, no less now than when, in manhood[']s prime, they stood in the front rank and battled for the cause of Christ. Their ripe judgment, rich experience and wise council are invaluable to the church. Let us do all in our power to smooth the way over which their declining steps lead, till they too shall be called home.
As the membership increased and settlements extended, it became necessary to form new churches. The Concord, Freedom, Zoar, Geneva and Zion Churches, were constituted mainly, if not altogether, of members of the Vernon Church.
[Madison Baptist Association Minutes, 1871. — jrd]
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