History of Fort Scott FCOG
A History of the First Church of God
Ft. Scott, Kansas
In 1883, David and J.W. Keplinger brought the Winebrenner doctrine to Fort Scott, which was the first movement west of the Mississippi River.
On August 6, 1888, the first meeting to organize a Church of God was held. On November 3, the first service was held. On December 18, 1888, the church was officially established at Mayhew Chapel in East Fort Scott by Elder Jay C. Forncrook, general missionary in Kansas.
During Elder Forncrook's ministry in 1889, the first bethel was built on the corner of Oak and Grant Streets with seven members. The cornerstone of the frame church was laid on April 27, 1889. The debt for this first bethel was paid on May 25, 1899.
The church grew, but in a few years the membership divided. G.L. Gist, who was a holiness elder, led the separation and established the Church of God (Holiness) at Wall and Washington streets. J.W. Hoffman remained as the leader of the original group. Later he had the Rev. Charles Manchester organize the membership and officially establish the church as the First Church of God in Fort Scott. The Rev. Jay C. Forncrook was the first pastor of the church, which was a mission church until 1925, when the old building was torn down and plans were made for the building of the new bethel.
On October 25, 1902, the Collegiate Institute, a Christian secondary school was operated by the Churches of God, opened in the stone building at the corner of Wall and Broadway. It remained open until 1917.
In 1925, the Rev. W.T. Turpin succeeded in selling part of the property of the Collegiate Institute, paying all debts and saving the original Collegiate building and corner lots at Wall and Broadway on which the second bethel was built, and $1000 cash. This money together with the property retained, was offered to the local church for building purposes by the General Eldership. The offer was accepted and plans were made to erect a new bethel. The old bethel was abandoned and the services of the church were held in the old Collegiate building, which is now an annex to the new building.
The congregation left the old church on Sunday morning and marched together to the new location. The old church was torn down and timbers were used from it in the construction of the new building. Services continued to be held in the Collegiate building until construction of the new church was complete.
Under Pastor A.E. Houser, ground was broken for the new bethel by A.L. Cory of Englevale, Kansas, and Mary Wildermuth of the local church. In 1925 the church board had voted to have a drawing made of the new church by an architect. Mr. A.L. Keplinger was elected general foreman for the building of the new bethel. The cornerstone was laid in March 1926.
When the architect submitted the plans, he said it could be built for between twenty and twenty-five thousand dollars. However, after construction had started, he informed the church that a mistake had been made. It would cost over $30,000 to complete the building. They pushed ahead and completed the basement with little indebtedness, having raised over $20,000. They found that it would take $13,000 to pay what was owed and complete the building. A loan was taken out for $6,000. A drive was started to complete a mile of dimes, at seventeen dimes to a foot. The Board of Missions agreed to give the April 1927, call of the Dollar Building Fund for $1,000. The 'Count On Me' Bible class agreed to finish their room with $400. Several Fort Scott businessmen contributed to the church fund. All the face brick for the church were sold at 75 cents each. Twenty-six memorial windows were sold at $25 each. The final cost of the building was $35,926.10.
On March 25, 1928, the new bethel was dedicated. The Rev. W.T. Turpin dedicated the bell at 11:00a.m. The Rev. Bryant dedicated the rooms at 3:00p.m. and the Rev. J.L. Updegraph dedicated the entire building at the evening service.
J.L. Updegraph, the Field Secretary for the Churches of God, wrote the following description of the church and the dedication services for the April 11, 1928, edition of 'The Church Advocate'.
It was my happy privilege to be with the church at Fort Scott, Kansas, when they dedicated their new house of worship. Those who have been at Fort Scott will remember the Collegiate building. The new bethel is built between it and Wall Street, joined on the south side of the former building.
From the picture of the bethel you get no conception of the beauty of the building and its surroundings.
The Collegiate property is one of the fine corners in the city. The building is o buff brick trimmed with white stone. The interior is even more beautiful. The main auditorium is a bowl, seating 200. Back of the pulpit is the baptistry with a beautiful painted scene of a river, which give the effect of running water. The painting is a gift of Brother and Sister Quy. Under the large galleries are classrooms that open with folding doors into the auditorium. The galleries are well arranged for classrooms.
The basement, which is a memorial to Altus Houser, provides for the beginners and the primary departments. With all the added space it is still necessary to have some of the classes in the Institute building. As the school runs around 400, it takes some space to handle it.
March 25t was an ideal day in weather conditions. The house was crowded both morning and night and the afternoon congregation filled the auditorium.
The expression heard most is summed up in, 'I have seen more massive churches but never any more beautiful.' I am ready to sanction that.
The pastor, Brother Argyl Houser, deserves much credit for the success of the work. I doubt if there was ever a bethel built that has had so many individual contributions. From all over our territory gifts have been sent in answer to the letters of Brother Houser and the appeal for the Mile of Dimes through the local church paper and THE ADVOCATE.
I have never known a place where so much has been contributed by the businessmen and citizens not members of the church. The members of the Church of God are not rich, and a building of this kind would have been impossible without this outside help. And this help speaks well for the standing of the pastor and the church in the community.
In 1938, the Fort Scott Church of God celebrated its 50th anniversary on December 18th. The following description of the observance was printed in the January 4, 1939 edition of 'The Church Advocate'.
The Golden Anniversary service was opened on Saturday evening with a message form Rev. T.M. Tucker, on 'The Ultimate Aim'. It was well received by a fine congregation.
Sunday dawned a beautiful day. The church pulpit was banked with lovely flowers. Rev. and Mrs. L.A. Jacaway, of the Maple Grove Church; Rev. S.W. Konkel of the New York Valley Church; Rev. W.T. Turpin of Rockville, Missouri; and laymen from these churches and the Mulberry Church helped us to make this day of memories a success.
At 9:45 Rev. W.T. Turpin gave the history of the church from memory. As he spoke of the ups and downs of the church in the past and how God blessed them with victory, it encouraged the church to go forward with greater zeal. The folk enjoyed very much the fellowship with Rev. and Mrs. Turpin and family.
At 11:00 Rev. J.L. Updegraph spoke on 'Intermingling the Old and the New'. It was indeed a blessing to have Rev. Updegraph with us on this special occasion. He has been working with this church since 1909. He met with the building committee timer after time, while the new bethel was being built.
At 12:00 noon a basket dinner was served in the basement to one hundred. At 1:30 the afternoon service began with congregational singing and prayer by Rev. Konkel. Two original poems were read: 'The Church of God' by the late T.H. Smallwood; and 'Fifty Years' by Mr. John Edward Perry. The ladies quartet sang, 'The Church by the Side of the Road'. J.E. Barbour's letter of appreciation was read. Mrs. T.H. Smallwood, 82 years old, the oldest member living, gave a testimony at this time and told what a joy it has been to work in the church.
At 7:00 Rev. Updegraph installed the officers of the Intermediate Christian Endeavor society with an impressive candle light service.
He then brought a very fitting message on, 'Who Are We?' to a good audience that almost filled the main auditorium.
The great day which will never be forgotten by those present, was closed with two happy believers following the Lord in baptism, administered by the pastor.'
-Alvin Mitchell, Pastor
It took seventeen years from the dedication of the new church in 1928, to completely erase the debt on the building. On June 17, 1945, a special service was held to celebrate the paying of the debt. The bulleting carried this message: The Building Debt Erased. The original cost of this bethel was about $36,000 plus the interest on notes during these seventeen years. The responsibility of dissolving this indebtedness has been assumed, sometimes by a great many people and often by just a few, who have been loyal to the task. However, because of the original wide spread interest in the new church building at Fort Scott, many contributions were received from various points throughout the U.S.
We would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has had a part in sharing the financial obligations of this church.
We are rejoicing today in the knowledge of the freedom from indebtedness on our beautiful bethel; however, many new and challenging projects are awaiting our attention.'
A complete list of all ministers of the church and the dates they served follows bringing this history up to the present. The minister who served longer than any other was Wesley Fornwalt. He served for a total of eighteen years at three separate times. His first pastorate was for five years from 1947 to 1952. He returned to serve another seven years from 1955 to 1962. He then returned a third time to serve six more years from 1970 until his death in 1976.