Established in the 1930s in the homes of Free Methodist Publishing House personnel, the Winona Lake (Indiana) Free Methodist Church has a long and significant history in the Wabash Conference and in the wider Free Methodist Church.
An iconic place within Free Methodism, Winona Lake conjures memories of the publishing house, the International Friendship House, the Billy Sunday Tabernacle, Homer Rodeheaver Auditorium and the local Free Methodist church. The community also hosted the Free Methodist headquarters for many year, leading many denominational employees and visitors to worship at the Winona Lake FMC.
The congregation celebrated 80 years of ministry during a celebration service on Sunday, April 26. Eleven current and former ministers shared in the event. After an extended meet-and-greet time, the congregation came together to worship through congregational singing, special music and testimonies of former pastors. The ministers’ comments had a common thread: commending the congregation on how members care for their pastors. Mike Conkle, the second associate pastor to serve the congregation, reflected on his experience and how it shaped his call into ministry.
Former Superintendent David Colgan reminisced about one of his early experiences when he served as Winona Lake senior pastor. He was prepared for a week of denominational Board of Administration meetings and the fact that all the bishops, BOA members and many superintendents would be around Winona Lake for the week. On Saturday night, however, he discovered that instead of arriving Monday, as he thought, everyone was already in Winona Lake and would be attending the Sunday morning service. Colgan was nervous about the special balloon service he had planned, but after the service, one bishop said he hadn’t had that much fun in church in years. That experience laid the groundwork for fruitful years of ministry at Winona Lake.
Bob Carder, pastor during the early 1990s, talked about the congregation’s adjustments when the Free Methodist headquarters transitioned from Winona Lake to Indianapolis in 1990. For a congregation that began as the Free Methodist Publishing House transitioned from Chicago to Winona Lake, there was concern about how the local church would fare as the headquarters moved. Over the years, denominational executives occupied many key leadership positions in the church. When those people moved to Indianapolis, Carder said, other Winona Lake members stepped into leadership roles previously occupied by the “professionals” and continued a tradition of ministry both in the church and in the community.
Current Senior Pastor Paul Parker talked about how the service could have been a memorial to the past history of the church. Since he started in February, however, he has seen many ways in which the church continues to reach out to the broader Winona Lake community. Through the Kiddie Kollege, a preschool and child-care program where Parker leads weekly chapel services, children from the community make connections to the church.
As Henry Church, missionary and former Winona Lake FMC pastor said, “Because of the broken body of Jesus, we are one.”
It’s that conviction and commitment to Jesus that continues to drive Winona Lake FMC into the future as its members minister to their community.
Mindi Grieser Cromwell is a Free Methodist elder and the director of the East Michigan Conference’s East Michigan Training Institute.0