HISTORY IN FAITH: Church renewal ongoing at historic Sugar Creek congregation in Tunker

Over 150 years ago the Sugar Creek church in Tunker was established. Ten years ago leaders of the Church of the Nazarene acquired the church and land to start a new congregation. A five-week renovation process resulted in overall upkeep and preservation of the historic structure in southern Whitley County.
Staff Writer

The Post & Mail
TUNKER ­­— Settling a church seemed like it was meant to be for the Sugar Creek Fellowship congregation after taking ownership 10 years ago.
Nestled in the small village of Tunker is one of the oldest standing churches in Whitley County.
Over 150 years ago, a Christian group in the area had begun to meet. Churches in the area at this time commonly met in various members’ homes.
Leading this group was David Shoemaker. Other members included Joseph Hardman, John Mishler, Jacob Metz, Frederick Weybright, Reuben Long, David Bear, Osias Metz, David Arnett, George Krider, Jacob Weybright, Jospeh Obenehain, Wilson Dimmick, Joseph Kreider, Peter Ginder and their families.
As the congregation grew, so did the need for a new location for church services.
In 1867, under the direction of elder Ira Calvert, the church agreed to build a brick church house that would be 80 feet long and 40 feet wide, plenty large enough for the Tunker population, or Dunkard as it was known at the time. It was named the Sugar Creek Church of the Brethren.
Almost immediately after its completion, David Kreider was ordained and named the church’s elder, a position he held until 1909.
During his time there, a second meeting house was added, pews were installed and a cement porch and steps were poured.
In 1908, a decision was made by the congregation to also add a kitchen and eating room, where the commmunity could come together to enjoy Passover and other feasts.
The church experienced further remodeling in 1910, with changes ranging from the pulpit to the entrances.
After 1913, the church was renamed to the Pleasant View Church of the Brethren.
The church continued to live on, with many faithful followers, but experienced a significant challenge in March of 1948 when a large storm tore a portion of the roof off.
After being repaired that year, the church underwent a further remodeling program in 1960, adding on a Sunday school room, two gas furnaces and restrooms by 1964.
All improvements were made without the church being forced to borrow money.
Eventually though the church started to lose members, and the leaders of the Church of the Brethren chose not to keep the church going in the Tunker location.
Instead, Marilyn Hull, whose ancestors first donated the property and who was given the church property again, contacted the leaders of the Church of the Nazarene to see their interest in establishing a new congregation at the historical facility.
Marybeth Johnson, administrative director of the Sugar Creek Fellowship Church, said that she and others became interested in the possibility and reached out to the Church of the Brethren.
The space was loaned to them over a short period of time to test local interest in the development.
“They let us use the church to see if it would work,” said Johnson. “Our responsibility was to pay for electricity and gas. We soon saw it was working and growing.”
Hull donated the land and the Church of the Brethren sold the church for just $24,000 with zero percent interest.
“It was unbelievable,” Johnson said.
Once she and others entered the church though, Johnson said, they knew immediately repairs would be needed.
“There was a hole in the roof, moldy carpet squares, it needed paint,” noted Johnson. “The community within the church came up with $1,000 for the renovation, but we knew it was going to be more than that.”
Though apprehensive about how the project would be funded, church officials soon began to see all the pieces falling into place.
“Everyday we saw a new miracle,” lauded Johnson.
She remembered one of the first contacts made was a local man, in order to receive estimates on painting costs. After visiting the church, this man and his son donated their time and resources to help preserve the historical Whitley County facility.
Next, church officials needed to purchase carpet for the foyer and nursery. When it came time to purchase and pick-up the materials though, the provider gave the carpets to them at no charge.
“Everyday we kept seeing a miracle take place. We kept praying and saying what’s the blessing going to be today,” remembered Johnson.
Materials, volunteer hours and more were provided in ordered to complete the renovation. The finish line was in sight, but officials realized they didn’t have enough money to complete it.
Johnson remembered traveling to her mailbox, and inside she found two checks for $500 each from Alabama and Chicago. They had enough money to complete the remodel.
“They were people who had heard about what we were doing and wanted to donate,” she said. “It was things like that felt like God kept providing – we knew that starting the church was the right thing to do.”
It came time eventually to remodel the other portions of the church including the furnace and the kitchen.
Johnson said she had spoke to someone online who was selling kitchen cabinets. The individuals ended up donating the cabinets, along with a stove, microwave, sink and more to support the church’s efforts.
After five weeks, the remodel was complete, and on Easter Sunday in March 2007, the Sugar Creek Fellowship Church of the Nazarene opened its doors for the first time.
The church is named for the historical creek located in the Tunker area. Its pastor is Larry Sheets.
Johnson remembers 30 in the audience the first day, but since then the congregation has grown to 85, and is now looking to expand.
Nearby property was purchased from Northeastern REMC, and church officials are now seeking donations for the expansion.
This weekend marks the 10 year anniversary of the church and the 150 year anniversary of the building itself, and officials are hoping to mark the occasion with a large celebration.
On Saturday, April 15 from 10 a.m. until noon, children ages 11 and under and their families are invited to take part in a 3,000 egg Easter egg hunt. Attendees will also have the chance to win door prizes, enjoy punch and cookies and listen to the Easter story. Attendance is free and open to the public.
On Sunday, guests are invited to a hearty breakfast at the church and to learn more about the history of the church itself and the renovation process.
Worship will begin at 10 a.m., and during the service, attendees will relive the memories of opening day by singing the same songs.
For more information about the celebration, about the church or to donate contact Marybeth Johnson at 260-248-2030.
The church is located at 3551 W. CR 800 S in South Whitley.