JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) — For the members of St. James United Methodist Church, every Sunday is like a family reunion.
“I can remember coming here when I was about 5,” church member Joyce Lewis said. “I will be 74 this year.”
Lewis has been attending St. James every Sunday with siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents — some of them serving as pastors, Sunday School teachers and choir members.
But she said family ties is only the second reason St. James has stayed alive for 150 years.
“Belief is number one,” Lewis told the News and Tribune (http://bit.ly/1t6kFjI ).
“God is Still Moving” is the theme for the church’s 150th anniversary celebration Sunday. St. James, 3715 Utica Sellersburg Road, will start the day with an 11 a.m. morning worship and dinner immediately following. At 3 p.m., Indiana United Methodist Church Conference Bishop Michael Coyner will speak at a 3 p.m. program.
“St. James is one of our longtime, faithful congregations,” Coyner said in an email about one of the oldest black Methodist churches in Indiana. “It would be fair to say they serve a diverse community with faithfulness and effectiveness, and that’s why I want to be with them on Sunday.”
Many remember attending St. James in earlier days, back when its old building was on the same property.
Melvin L. Stum — whose surname is one of two main family names at St. James along with Oglesby — said the preaching style has changed over the years.
“My grandfather was a minister who preached brimstone and fire,” he said of the late Rev. John Stum, who was said to jump a foot in the air during sermons, even in his 80s.
“There’s a story my daddy used to tell me ...” Lewis said. “Daddy said that one day it got so filled with the spirit that these guys stomped through the floor.”
Stum remembers having to heat the old church during the winter.
“Somedays, it would be real cold and we’d just go on Saturday night and make a fire and just stay in church all night,” he said. “(The) benches ... we’d pull them all to the side, make a big basketball court in there and play and about 11 o’clock, set the fire down, then we’d go to sleep, get up in the morning ... and go home and get ready for church.”
Lewis said she remembers her grandmother teaching the youngest kids in Sunday school.
“And slowly, we would graduate from Grandma’s Sunday School class over here beside the piano — old piano (that) looked like it was going to fall through and fall apart,” she said.
Her husband, Jim Lewis, married into the St. James family. He said one former member in particular stands out to him.
“The old church was a matriarchal society and one woman ran the church,” he said. “Whatever she said was like Jesus.”
The first St. James church that remains in the memories of its members was torn down and a new one was built in 1968. Though the building — along with some traditions — has changed, some things have stayed the same.
The Rev. Ronald G. Ellis, who has been preaching at St. James for eight years, said the family ties have made relationships even stronger.
“I know every member on the first-name basis,” said Ellis, whose grandfather was a pastor at the church.
Another unwavering quality of St. James is their “great musical witness,” he said.
“My first day that I was here, my very first sermon, I was nervous,” he said — until he saw an 8-year-old girl dancing freely to the service’s opening song.
“And I said, ‘All right, Lord.‘ I said, ‘Yes,‘” Ellis said. “And that musical witness has continued to be there. That makes my message easier to give.”
Ellis said staying alive for 150 years is possible by one thing: “The only secret is Jesus Christ.”
“We’re all human so we always do human things, but as long as we can pick up the Bible and get some witness ... that’s what keeps us going,” he said.
Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com