I guess I’m at the age when nostalgia for a simpler place and time seems to occupy more and more of my thoughts. During these moments of miscellaneous reflection, my mind invariably wanders back to my youth and my wonderful home town of Elnora. Lately, I’ve been thinking about “growing up” in the Elnora Christian Church and the great memories the experience provided.
As a direct descendant of the Hannah family who helped found the settlement of Owl Prairie which later became the town of Elnora, my great-grandfather, William Hannah, was a charter member of the Elnora Christian Church and one of the four original trustees. Organized on September 28, 1890 (exactly 54 years to the day before I was born), the church had forty charter members.
Although I had been to church several times before, my earliest recollection of attending the Elnora Christian Church proved to be somewhat inauspicious, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was about five years old and after the service began and communion was being passed, I thought it was “refreshment time.” So, I took a handful of the bread and reached for the small cup of wine just as my mother, Elizabeth Johnson, stopped me with a stern, “No, James Emerson!” Not understanding the significance of communion, I was devastated, seeing everybody else eating and drinking while I just had to sit and watch. Of course, my mother later explained the significance to me.
When I was about twelve years old, I made the decision to accept Christ and become a full-fledged member of the church. As I remember, there was a week-long revival which culminated in several people confessing their faith and being immersed in Christian baptism. Because of my crutches and full leg braces, it was apparent that I could not be baptized like everyone else. As a result, I was the last person to be immersed that evening.
To prepare for baptism, I had to remove my braces and then our minister, Bob Brock, and my father, Emerson Johnson, carried me down the steps into the baptistery on a wooden chair. Following my confession of faith, the two of them tipped me back into the water, completely immersing me and the chair. It was a humbling experience which I will never forget.
Reverend Brock and I became great friends. Every Saturday I would go to the church and help him print the bulletins for the Sunday service, using the smelly old 1950’s mimeograph machine. I became very active in the youth group and attended many district meetings riding with Bob in his old VW Beetle. And, it was Bob Brock who encouraged me to go to “Church Camp” each summer at Bedford Christian Camp. Because of my physical problems, I was always apprehensive when meeting new people and going places I hadn’t been before. Bob Brock really helped me conquer those fears.
One Sunday of each year was designated as “Youth Sunday” at the Elnora Christian Church. On that day, the youth of the church pretty much conducted the entire service, including the sermon. It was my great honor to be chosen to give the message on one of those occasions when I was in my teens. Reverend Brock assisted me with the preparation, but when Sunday came, I was on my own. I’m sure I was very nervous, but I got through it and remember that it was one of the few times that my father was seated in the congregation. It was a very special day.
By the late 1950’s, the multi-level white-frame Elnora Christian Church was really beginning to show its age. So, on Sunday, May 7, 1961, ground was broken for the first section of the new building. It was only four days before I graduated from high school, and I was one of eleven church members privileged to participate in the ceremony. I was especially proud, knowing that seventy years prior, my great-grandfather had been part of a similar ceremony.
I started classes at Purdue University later that year, and my “string” of thirteen straight years of never missing Sunday services neglectfully came to an end. When I was home on weekends and on vacation, I attended church, but as the years passed I slowly began to drift away.
My wife, Carol, was raised in the Baptist Church in Salem, Indiana, and we have gone to several churches over the years. Since moving to Indianapolis in 1972, we have been members of three different Christian churches, including our current church home, Indian Creek Christian Church, which is very near our current house on the southeast side of town.
When we began attending “The Creek” on a regular basis about a year ago, we knew it was where we belonged. Like many churches in the area, it is very large with a congregation of nearly 4,000 attending the three Sunday services. Although it dwarfs the church I grew up in, everyone seems to be very friendly and we are so happy that we placed our membership there.
However, as much as I love “The Creek” with its full band, modern Christian music, and extraordinary minister, when I close my eyes and think back to my youth in Elnora, I can still hear Roy Quilliam’s booming voice, slightly off-key, at the back of the congregation singing “The Old Rugged Cross.”
I can still see people such as Owen Rader, Ray Humerickhouse, Wayne Ketchem, Boots Blocksom, Marie Nugent, Reed Rader, Vera Stites, Johnny Mize, Berniece Osmon, Roy Moulden and the other great folks that meant so much to me and to the church. Most of all, I see Bob Brock delivering the Sunday message to the congregation. And I miss them.