If you’re trying to think of a unique baby name that everyone is familiar with, Ebenezer might be the way to go. According to the United States Department of Social Security, the name has only made the list of top 1,000 boys’ names one time in the last 200 years. Since that year was 1884, and even then the name only ranked 792, there aren’t too many Ebenezers around.
Blame it on Ebenezer Scrooge, the miserly old business man in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. No one wants their son to be named after that stingy curmudgeon. Churches however, are more forgiving. There are three churches in the Missouri Conference that bear the name Ebenezer. These churches as old as the Dickens story, but they derive their names from a much older text.
Ebenezer at St. Joseph
You’d better watch what you say when you sit on a step, because is just might stick. Mr. & Mrs. John Martin deeded an acre of land near St. Joseph for a church on July 17, 1856. This acre was from the land homesteaded by the Karns family and is the site of the present Ebenezer United Methodist Church. The story is told that when the first church building was being built a stranger came walking by and sat on the steps to rest, saying, “Now I have found my Ebenezer.” The builders liked the sound of that, and the church gained its title. Through the ages the members have found the name appropriate, since it means “ Stone of Help.”
If the stranger stayed, he would have found that the people of Ebenezer UMC were a loyal lot. The ancestors of the people who founded the church more than 150 years ago are still part of the church today.
Phyllis Fisher has been part of Ebenezer UMC more than 70 years. She remembers that when she was growing up, Ebenezer was part of the four-point charge. They had Sunday school every Sunday. Once a month the preacher came and they had a sermon in the morning, then dinner at the church, followed by another sermon in the afternoon.
“So even though he only came once a month, we still got two sermons a month,” Fisher said.
So in addition to being loyal, the congregation also became self-sufficient. “We couldn’t wait for the minister to do something; we had to take care of things ourselves,” Fisher said.
They still take care of things on their own, and they also take care of others. The church, which averages around 60 worship, volunteers once a quarter at the local soup kitchen, takes up a monthly collection for the food bank and makes prayer shawls for people who are ill.
They are not sitting still in worship, either. Once a month they have a contemporary worship service. And they have a growing youth group. How many youth?
“There must have been 15 or 20 of them when they TP’d my house last Halloween,” said Rev. Ben Mulford, who started at the church last July.
The church puts on a living nativity event each year, with live animals, which this year including a llama. More than 110 people attended the event, not counting the volunteers from the church, which amounted to pretty much everyone from the church. “Our volunteers ranged in age from 3-years-old to 90,” Fisher said.
The present church building was constructed by members is 1884. In 1929 they jacked it up and built a basement underneath it. In 2005 they built a large new fellowship hall out back. In 2006 they added a steeple to the church, after haranguing a neighboring business that was located in a former church building into selling them and installing their steeple.
Farther south there is an even older Ebenezer, optimistically named Ebenezer I. The church is listed on the historical register, and is one of the oldest churches west of the Mississippi River to continually offer services from its origins in 1832.
Pastor Mark Hansche is going on his eighth year at the church. He’s not sure if the church was named for the town, or the town for the church, but the church has weathered the sands of time better. The surrounding community of Ebenezer used to have stores, a feed mill, even a college, but when they missed being located on the railroad, and later the highway, most of the activity moved to Springfield.
The church has been on the upswing, though. There were about 25 people attending when Hanche first arrived. Now there are about 60. The present building was built in 1890, and still has its original oak and wrought iron pews, and its original bell that rings every Sunday. Like the St. Joseph Ebenezer, Ebenezer I was also jacked up and had a basement dug underneath it, in this case in 1935.
“That was the most recent addition to the building,” Hansche said.
But there have been other enhancements. Projection screens and a new sound system were added in 2012. The church has launched a new contemporary service called The Connection that meets on Sunday nights at 6 p.m. On the first Sunday of each month the church hosts a blessings and barbeque meal.
Compared to the Missouri’s other two Ebenezer UMCs, Ebenezer II is a Johnny-come-lately. In 1867, Ebenezer Johnson purchased a farm four miles east of Marshfield on Hartville road. Two years later his friends and neighbors decided to build a church a there. Ebenezer’s wife named the church Ebenezer, because it was the name of the church they had attended when they lived in High Point, North Carolina.
The church grew to 100 members by 1892. More space was needed, so the church moved to a new location and new building in 1896. Like the St. Joseph Ebenezer, they were on a four-point charge and had Sunday school every Sunday, and worship services with preaching once per month. In 1945 the church moved to another new building, with a full basement, that was constructed by members on an adjacent farm.
In the 1960s the church built a 14’ x 28’ fellowship hall with a kitchen, bathrooms and full basement, and a well was drilled. In 1982 a 22’ x 28’ addition was built onto the front of the church.
Missouri Conference Archivist John Finley is unsure how Ebenezer I and Ebenezer II received their Roman numeral nomenclature. He speculates that it was done by the district or Conference at some point to create clarity, since the churches are only about 30 miles apart.
Ebenezer II gets a lot of attention in its community at a time of the year when no one is thinking about Ebenezer Scrooge – July. Every year the church puts on a fireworks display the weekend before Independence Day, and has a barbeque to a go along with it. The whole neighborhood is invited, and everything is free –very non-Scrooge like.
Pastor David Williams said as he tries to build more of a ministry with young people, he’s trying to work around the Ebenezer II name.
“Ebenezer is a unique word, especially to those who haven’t taken the time to look up what it means,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get ‘E-2’ to catch on.”