By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
UPPER SANDUSKY — Mention the name Emanuel United Church of Christ and you’ll likely get some puzzled looks from people who live around Upper Sandusky. But call it the Mud Church and all that changes.
“Years ago, if you went to town and you said you went to Emanuel Church, they were like ‘well, I don’t know where that’s at,'” said Paul Kotterman, who is the fourth generation of his family to attend the church. “Then say out at Mud Church. ‘Oh, I know where it’s at.'”
The small, rural house of God is located at the intersection of Pitt Township 127 and 59 in Wyandot County. The church has stood there since its beginnings in 1855.
“The original building had mud and straw plaster in it, and that’s where the Mud Church name came from,” said the Rev. Jay Scott.
According to church history, the Mud Church congregation was formed in 1852, but it would be another three years until the nickname would take hold.
A group of German families who had settled on land southeast of present-day Upper Sandusky initially began meeting in homes to worship. On Dec. 19, 1852, the German Reformed Church of America officially recognized this group of 17 people as a church.
In fall 1853, an acre of land was purchased for $17 to be used for a building site and cemetery. A church was constructed of hewed timbers, and a plaster of mud and straw was applied both inside and out to protect the structure from the weather.
They called the church Emanuel, based on Scripture from Matthew 1:23 that foretold the birth of Jesus: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emanuel, which means ‘God With Us.'”
‘Good old church’
The original building was torn down in 1869, and a second church was constructed of red brick. It was dedicated in 1871.
In the beginning, part of the sermons were given in German, said Kotterman.
“Also when that church was built, there was a wall down through the center of it. The women sat on one side and the men on the other … so the boys couldn’t flirt with the girls and whatever,” he laughed.
These restrictions wore away and, later, when some repairs were made to the church about 1884, the partition was removed.
The third and current building was erected in 1907.
“According to what we read, they had repaired the second church a couple of times and it was getting in need of a lot more repair. They needed more room so they tore it down and built this,” said Kotterman.
The church reportedly had the largest Sunday school in Wyandot County.
“There were 16 classes and that would have been in the second church, and it said they had 186 people there one Sunday. I said, ‘they couldn’t have gotten that many in there so they had to have had Sunday school outside.'”
The second brick church was demolished and what material could be used in the new building was salvaged.
Kotterman’s great-grandfather, Solomon Kotterman, kept a diary of the time.
“The second brick church, they held the last service in it I think the last Sunday of February, and he had written in there, ‘Last service in the old church. Good old church,'” Kotterman related.
The cost of the new church was about $9,000. A dedication service was held Sept. 26, 1909.
Scott said the sanctuary features a traditional Akron style with a sloped floor and curved pews.
“There’s a funny story about that pulpit,” he said. “It was in the second brick building to start with, so it’s pretty old. And I guess it fell into disrepair so they decided to get rid of it.”
A member of the church offered to take the stand home and burn it.
“But he didn’t burn it, obviously,” said Scott. “He stuck it in his chicken coop where it sat for 50 years. And then somebody decided to get it out and have it restored. And now there it sits.”
Kotterman added that the pulpit even spent some time in the church bell tower.
‘Welcome home to the Mud Church’
Even after the present building was completed, Emanuel continues to be known as the Mud Church.
The average Sunday attendance is about 45 people, said Scott, who is a full-time farmer and part-time pastor.
“The congregation is a mix of backgrounds,” he said. “There are farmers. There are factory workers. It’s a just wide range of people where, at one time, it would have been almost exclusively farmers.”
There’s also a wide range of ages: “We have little toddlers here on Sundays. And we have a 98-year-old who still mows her own lawn.”
An addition in 2016 provided church offices, restrooms, an elevator and a fellowship hall.
“A longtime stalwart family of the church, Donald and Mary Jean Alban, who had no heirs to their estate, had both died. And in their will they left their farm to the church,” said Scott.
The 150-acre farm was sold at public auction, which allowed the congregation to build the addition. The fellowship hall is named in their honor — the Donald and Mary Jean Alban Community Room.
At one time, the Mud Church was famous for its lawn socials. The menu included chicken and noodles made by longtime member Leah Jean Wolfe, along with sandwiches, pie and ice cream, said Kotterman.
“But our numbers went down and we just didn’t have the people,” he said. “A lot of people were disappointed when we quit having it.”
Scott said there was also a time when members supplemented the church budget and mission projects by selling homemade sausage.
“From start to finish they made it themselves,” he said, adding that in later years, the church was selling about 3,000 pounds of sausage a year.
Once the addition was finished, the congregation started hosting a meal on Super Bowl Sunday. Proceeds support local food pantries.
The three primary missions of the Mud Church are feeding the poor, providing clean drinking water and supporting youth. The church also sponsors Boy Scout Troop 777 and Cub Scout Pack 777.
Over the past three years, the average Sunday attendance has nearly doubled.
“I feel like the largest contribution into our growth is Jay,” said Ron Wilch, a 20-year member of the church.
Although he’s not an ordained minister, Scott is authorized by the United Church of Christ.
“There’s a subtle difference and there’s an educational difference,” he said. “I don’t have a master’s of divinity degree, but the United Church of Christ will take people with the ability to fill the role of a pastor and give them the authority to marry, bury and offer communion and baptize in their local churches. And this has been a good fit for me as well.”
Wilch said the members tend to think of one another as family.
“That’s the way Pastor Jay opens up each Sunday morning service is ‘Welcome home to the Mud Church,'” he said. “This is our church family, and that means a lot to me and it means a lot to a lot of people, that tie between family and church.”
Sunday school is offered at 9 a.m. every Sunday, followed by morning worship at 10. A midweek Mud Church is also held at 6:30 p.m. on the second and third Wednesdays of each month.
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