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Centralia’s Friendship Church celebrates 150th anniversary of founding

Posted on Tuesday, September 26, 2023 at 6:07 pm

Friends and members of the Friendship Church congregation gather behind the White Swamp Oak tree planted Saturday as part of the celebration of the church’s 150th anniversary, Saturday, Sept. 23.

“Ending up as pastor here has been the greatest surprise of my life. I never expected it those many years ago. I never thought… It’s just an amazing thing what God’s done,” Jed Angell, Pastor of Friendship Church said as the celebration of the church’s 150th anniversary slowly wound to a close, the evening of Saturday, September 23. “And continues to do.”

Located seven miles north of Centralia, on Route EE more than 100 members and friends of the church gathered to celebrate Friendships’ legacy of worship  and mission.

Filling the time capsule

Planting the tree

Burying the time capsule

One of those members was Gary Stowers, 83, who said he was carried into the church shortly after he was born.

“ I am proud to see the church still going,” Stowers said. “I was carried in here when I was a week old and I’ve been here 83 years.”

As church friends and family hustled and bustled around him, he continued. “It is very vibrant right now. One time we were down to maybe five us us going here, and tonight I heard Jed say, well we’ve grown from there and he’s a big reason for it.”

Stowers said the current building is Friendship’s third incarnation. “This is the third one, where we are was the little burb of Sailing. This used to be a little town. There was a service station across the street. That was years ago, there’s still Sialing on the map. This has been a very good place, a lot of young people have come through  here, a lot of missionary work started here. We’ve got people all over the country that we support… Jed came here in 93 or 94 and we started immediately after that… I think we’ve been good for the community. Everybody came together, whether they were Tulip people or Centralia people, they came together to help us rebuild in 97, so I think this church means a lot to a lot of people.”

That afternoon as members of the congregation worked with Centralia City Agronomist Jim Lee  and planted White Swamp Oak  on the church’s south law, Angell read aloud the names of many of the church’s early and or founding families.

Here is an excerpt from the speech he gave as at least 70 people gathered around the site of tree as the sun slowly, and spectacularly set.

“On the 28th day of September 1873 the following named persons met and formed themselves into an organization which has since constituted the Friendship Christian Church:  M.V. Baker and wife Jerusha W. Baker, John H Doling, Andrew J. Bush (then pastor) and wife Betty C. Bush, William T. Tolson and M.A. Tolson his wife, Mattie F. Daling, John J. Wooden and Fannie L. Wooden, James J. Hulen and wife Elizabeth Hulen, Martha E. and Mary S. Hulen, Mary E. Dry, J.T. Dry, Nannie Dry, W.G. Shock and wife Elizabeth, Sarah E. Brown, J.W.H. Rector, Sallie Downing, Robert H. Brooks and wife Susan M. Brooks, Ben Riggs and wife Pollie A. Riggs, George A. Perkins (an eminent preacher of Fayette), Drusie Perkins, E.C. Gill, Emma Gill, Fannie Winn, Nora Mahan, Permelia Hall, Bulie A. Turner, America T. Hulen, Marcus P. Baker, J.A. Mahan and wife Susan Mahan, J.P. Mahan, Martha A. Llewellyn, Benjamin Croswhite, John J. Hulen and wife Ormie Hulen.”

As member placed dirt around the freshly planted trees base, others gathered around Christi Giblertson to put items in a time capsule which was placed in the cement of the chuch’s entry way.

“We’re putting a time capsule in, that we’re supposed to open in 50 years,” Gilbertson said. ”It’s just a collection of things people thought were necessary or important… We have a phone with 144 pictures taken today, tons of letters from people, especially the kids, so that 50 years from now they can get the letters they wrote themselves when they were young. We’ve got stuff from our bible studies, things from celebrate recovery, and other things people just thing are important.”

When asked what it meant to her for the church to be turning 150, she said,  “I am just amazed that there is a church that has been here for 150 years. And it just means home.”

What follows are excerpts from a handout, Angell gave to the Fireside Guard, regarding the church’s history.

“… Services were held at Friendship School until 1881 when 3 acres on northeast corner of land owned by Major James S. Rollins, a frame church building was erected, costing $1,800.  In 1881 H.C. Davis, formerly of Woodlawn in Marion County was pastor of the church, followed by G.A. Perkins of Fayette, Mo. In 1882.  C.G. Gill of Columbia and Elijah Chrisman pastored in 1883.  For the year of 1884 Jacob Hugley of Paris was the minister in charge.  As of 1884 there were 122 members in the church.

  “Their situation is one of the most choice in the county being eight miles north and west of Centralia in the midst of a rich and beautiful rolling prairie.  The community is an agreeable friendly and kindly one and the members of this church adhere closely to the principles taught in the Bible, and those only”.

  In 1895 a tornado destroyed the original building, but it was soon rebuilt.  Friendship Church thrived for years, in 1908 there were 166 members, 1920 – over 200 members, 1924 – 115 members, 1938 – 138 members and down to 100 in 1952.  Attendance continued to decline and finding a pastor became a challenge.  Members occasionally would gather to worship and sing hymns without a formal pastor while at other times a visiting pastor would come to lead the congregation.  In 1993, Gary Stowers approached Jed Angell and asked if Jed would be interested in giving Friendship Church “one more try” before the old building is boarded up, thankfully Jed agreed.  The church met with Jed preaching weekly, finally Friendship had a full-time pastor again!

Friendship continued to grow and an attached bathroom with running water was added in 1993.  By 1997 Friendship outgrew the original building built in 1881 and it was decided to build a new building just to the south of the existing church.   The construction was mostly done by members and their families and completed in 1998.  As the church experienced continued growth a sanctuary was added onto that structure in 2003.  The Youth Program also experienced major growth and found a need for a meeting place for the different youth groups.  From this need Friendship Place was born.  Located in downtown Centralia in old grocery store building, Friendship Place serves over 100 youth each week in a variety of programs.

   Friendship experienced more growth on April 4th, 2004, when the congregation of Daybreak Community Fellowship joined with the existing Friendship congregation.  Eventually, limited space and additional music opportunities required Friendship to expand once again, and two services were offered every Sunday.  The family of Friendship Church continued to enjoy the peaceful setting of Northern Audrain County every Sunday morning until March 17th, 2018, when a fire destroyed the entire building.

   Although devastated, Friendship was determined to rebuild and continue spreading God’s word.  Church services continued at Friendship Place during this trying time and after prayerful and thoughtful consideration, it was decided to rebuild on the same peaceful section of land that served as Friendship’s home for over 100 years.  Construction began in 2018 and the first service was held on May 5th, 2019.  The current building serves as the church home to 648 members, and another 432 additional regular attending friends, and neighbors.’