Saturday, March 9, 2013
History of Brethren [Believers] Movement
By Robert L. Peterson
South Central Iowa
Christian coal miners from Scotland immigrated to the coal mining area of southeast Iowa perhaps as early as 1885. They formed little assemblies and began to preach the gospel to fellow miners and farmers. Forbush and What Cheer were among the early assemblies; then Rathbun, Mystic, Numa, Jerome, Hocking, Melcher, and Williamson; then Centerville and Albia. By removals these pioneers or their descendants became the nuclei of assemblies in Des Moines, Eddyville, Ottumwa, and Davenport. The last named had an earlier history, on a different basis, but its later strength was largely due to influx from Centerville. At one time, the assembly at Ottumwa was the largest and most influential in the state of Iowa; it disbanded in the mid 1990s.
The What Cheer Assembly was formed some time prior to 1888, making it the first or second in Iowa (see Berea). It quickly grew to a company of fifty or more Christians. When work in the mines ran out at What Cheer some of these brethren moved to Carbondale and Excelsior. They continued their Gospel activity and worked underground to pay expenses. When the mines closed in those places, they moved further afield into southern Iowa.
Around 1890, a few of the coal miners from What Cheer came to Forbush to work in the mine there, establishing an assembly there. Among them were James Whittem, John Moffat, and W.A. Wilson. They worked in the mine during the winter months, saved their money, then rented tents to use for Gospel meetings during the summer, in many small towns. As people trusted the Lord, small meetings were started. A feature of the work in these towns were joint quarterly meetings consisting of one-day ministry.
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When these towns lost population with the loss of industry, these assemblies moved to Centerville. They bought the Swedish Baptist Mission for meetings, calling it the Centerville Gospel Hall. In 1904, the old Methodist building on the corner of Main and Washington was purchased and became their meeting place until the present building was built in 1950, at 828 South 12th Street.
The Centerville assembly was a fairly large group for a small town; it was a leader among several other assemblies in the area. Their Labor Day conferences were highlights of the year, with several hundred people in attendance. In the late 1990s, only a handful of adults were in the fellowship.
Among those who worked and preached there were William Sommerville, John Moffat, W.A. Wilson, John McGee, John K. Wilson, John Hargrave, James S. White, W.W. White, and Thomas McCully. These men carried on for a long time before any of those giving their whole time to the Lord’s work arrived on the scene. Mr. Sommerville was a true shepherd and a good gospeller. John Moffat and W. A. Wilson were gifted men and spent their later years in full-time service. They were used in establishing the original testimony in Centerville in about 1897. W. W. White helped Mr. Moffat and others in tent work at Centerville, Numa, Jerome, and other places. The Welshmen David Lawrence and his brother-in-law were prominent in the assembly later; David Lawrence was an itinerant preacher who traveled often with Arthur Rodgers. John Lewis was another itinerant preacher who was associated with Centerville. George Jones is the current leading elder in the Centerville assembly, now called the Centerville Gospel Chapel.
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Williamson was an active mining town in South Central Iowa when its coal mine was in operation, but scarcely exists today. The assembly meeting at the Williamson Gospel Hall was started in about 1929. The group met first in the Williamson High School auditorium and had about 45 to 50 people in fellowship. Two years after the meeting was started, the group moved a building from Numa to Williamson for their fellowship. Mark Avitt’s truck was used to move the building. The Gospel Hall had a large sign on the outside with John 3:16 in bold letters.
Most of the brothers in the assembly were coal miners. Some had moved from Albia and other area meetings when those mines were closed. The Williamson Gospel Hall closed in the mid 1950s after the Williamson mine closed.
Speakers that helped in the meeting included David Lawrence, W.W. White, Albert Orcutt, James Stell, and David and John Horn.
This excerpt from History of the Brethren Movement by Robert L. Peterson is taken from the web site of Emmaus Bible College.