By Carl Stagner
In 1913, a train collided with George Gleckler’s car, abruptly ending the life of his wife and son. Though his remaining children survived, the pain was nearly unbearable for this brother of Emma Kardatzke. Yet out of the throes of such tragedy, the Church of God in Elmore, Ohio, was born. From the depths of despair, the Lord has led the congregation to celebration time and time again; only this time, the celebration was extra special. This time, the church came together to mark one hundred years of ministry.
As the Church of God reformation movement moves farther into its thirteenth decade, more and more congregations are reaching their one-hundred-year milestone, if they haven’t already. When churches begin to count the blessings God has bestowed on them over the past century, it’s no wonder they pull out all the stops to honor their heritage. Often believers forget their heritage, while some have no knowledge of it. But churches across the country are modeling Joshua’s stones of remembrance so that generations present and generations to come will know the power and grace of a God who delivers (Joshua 4).
Tom Willhardt, pastor of Elmore Church of God, says that church members tend to lose sight of the lives God has touched through ministry over the years. “We saw people who traveled across the United States, from Florida, Virginia, California, Arizona—all coming to Elmore for our centennial. Often smaller churches feel insignificant because of their size, but then seeing all those people that have been touched by the church down through the years by the gospel—it was incredible.”
On the Sunday morning of Elmore’s one hundredth anniversary, Pastor Tom Willhardt spoke of the powerful ways God can redeem tragedy in our lives. As a fourteen-year-old, Willhardt himself had tragically lost both of his parents in a plane crash. “Not until George Gleckler’s sisters reached out to him and he finally fully surrendered to God was God able to use him to help start the Church of God in Elmore. It wasn’t until I fully surrendered my pain into God’s hands that he called me into ministry and turned tragedy into triumph.”
Beautiful things happen when believers from every generation come together for a centennial celebration to reflect on what God has done among them. The church worships, the church fellowships, the church does what it does best (eats!), and the church shares stories of faith and friendship. Upon recollection of God’s marvelous works, the people are encouraged. Those who were never around to experience these miracles leave confident that God is still in the miracle-working business. Looking back, all of these testimonies give glory to God; looking forward, these testimonies energize the church for an even brighter future.
“The Lord has given us twelve acres of ground,” Willhardt explains. “We’re in the fifth year of providing crops for the community. We’ve developed relationships with three or four farming families. They plant corn for us, donate pepper and tomato and other vegetable plants. They do it all for nothing, and then the community can come and pick it all for free. I tell my church we need to get out there just to develop relationships with people. Sharing Christ could and may happen, but we need to begin by developing relationships with them. God has given me a passion for this community. That will take us into the next hundred years.”
To all the Church of God congregations celebrating a centennial this year, congratulations, and may God bless your next hundred years!