SHARON CENTER — On a quiet hilltop 10 miles southwest of Iowa City rests a brick church and an old cemetery wrapped in a white iron fence.
For Marge Miller and many others in the small, unincorporated village of Sharon Center, this place is filled with more than a century of family and community history.
“I have great ties to this,” says Miller, 95, sitting inside United Methodist Church, which marks its 150th anniversary this weekend.
Miller, 95, has been a member of the church her entire life. She was “a babe in arms” when her parents first brought her to church and she was baptized at home by the minister.
Miller’s ties to the church, however, don’t begin at her birth. Four of her great-grandparents were among 17 founding members and are buried in the cemetery across the road, next to where the original 1869 church building once stood.
“(It’s) very special because I know they were really the foundation of this,” she says.
Community members began meeting in a school house when the church initially formed in 1866. The first church structure — a 24-by-40-foot pine lumber building — was constructed three years later. Membership continued to increase and the church eventually outgrew the original building and moved across the road in 1959, where the church remains today.
Part of what made United Methodist so successful over the years is that Miller’s story is not a unique one, she said. She said other families have been in the area for a significant amount of time — including the family of current member Nancy Ritter, which she can trace back about 150 years.
“A lot of the families have their roots really deep here. I think the people are sincere, they’re generous, they’re trustworthy. They’re mostly happy, hardworking people,” Miller said.
The Rev. Erling Shultz, pastor at United Methodist, said the congregation totals more than 400 people, with a regular attendance of about 149.
While Shultz said all churches have a history, it’s a milestone for a small, rural congregation to last 150 years. He credits the church’s ability to endure in part to the fact it attracts members from places like Iowa City and Coralville.
Even so, Ritter said like many other churches, Sunday school classes are getting smaller and fewer younger members are living in the area and joining the church.
To mark its 150th anniversary, a celebration is planned Saturday and Sunday at the church, 2804 520th St. SW. The public is invited to join current and past members both days.
Saturday’s activities include a 6:30 p.m. cemetery walk, 9:15 fireworks show, an ice cream social and children’s activities.
Sunday begins with a 10 a.m. worship service featuring the Sharon Praise Band, a select choir, keyboardist Barb Shultz and remarks from three former pastors. Following the service, members plan to open a time capsule. A potluck pig roast takes place at noon, tours of the new parsonage are offered from 1-3 p.m. and another ice cream social completes the day.
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Shultz said he hopes the event is a time for members to reflect on the past and look to the church’s future.
“You don’t make it 150 years without a vision to make it that far,” he said.