The Evangelical Association's first church in Indiana
This location is really two "sites" in one, both celebrating the beginnings of the work of the Evangelical Association in Indiana. In October of 1835, the state's first general meeting had been held at nearby Abington. Then, in 1836, East Germantown was the site of the second "big meeting." Rev. Jacob Boaz led this one.
Assisting him was a thirty-nine-year-old local preacher, Rev. Absolom B. Shaefer. He was old for a beginning preacher, and what's more, he had a farm and a large family back in Ohio. Rev. Shaefer's life and family were soon to be entwined with East Germantown.
East Germantown was the site of many "firsts" for the Evangelical Association.
The first congregation in Indiana was organized here by Rev. Christian Augenstein in 1838. The next year the congregation was paid a first visit from newly consecrated Bishop John Seybert, destined to become one of the giants of the Evangelical Church.
The first Evangelical Association camp-meeting in Indiana was held on the land of John Dill, near East Germantown, in August, 1840. On the last day, a raucous crowd attacked the campers, but were unable to break up the meeting. Over many years, successful meetings were held in Dill's woods.
The first church building of the Evangelical Association in all of Indiana was erected in East Germantown in 1843 and dedicated there on January 1, 1844. By now the congregation had organized a Sunday school, the second one in Indiana. This building played host to the Annual Conference in June of 1846.
And when the Indiana Annual Conference was ready to organize itself, where should it meet but in this church? On June 1, 1853, Bishop Joseph Long gaveled the Conference of thirteen preachers into existence.
The second Indiana Conference session was likewise held at East Germantown. For several years, Seybert and Long took turns officiating over the Indiana Conferences.
Bishop Seybert died in 1860. His grave near Flatrock, Ohio, is now a UM Heritage Landmark, and Indiana United Methodists have a proud share in the story of this great man.
The East Germantown church was the seat of the Annual Conferences in 1855, 1857, 1862, 1873, and 1883.
Remarkably, the 1843 building continued to serve the congregation until very recently. Though several times remodeled, the original building remains but is now, sadly, discontinued and left vacant.
Southwest of the church building is the Pershing cemetery containing a tear-shaped stone monument whose weathered inscription reads:
"Indiana Conference Centennial
"In 1838 near this place the first congregation of the Indiana Conference of the Evangelical Church was organized by Chr. Augenstein. To commemorate this event and the pioneer labors of Rev. Absolom Schaefer who lies buried in these grounds, the Annual Conference placed this marker on the 23rd day of October in the year of our Lord 1938. East Germantown, Indiana."
The second grave marker south of this monument is Rev. Absolom B. Shaefer's. After being ordained, he spent several years preaching, mainly in Ohio. Respected by his peers, he would serve repeatedly as secretary of the conference and be elected several times as a delegate to the General Conference.
In 1844 Shaefer was appointed presiding elder of the Indiana District. He moved his family from Ohio to East Germantown, and from this home he rode horseback throughout the entire state of Indiana!
After years of this punishing service, Rev. Shaefer was appointed presiding elder of the Whitewater District. From 1859 to 1865, he served missions in Evansville, South Bend, and Indianapolis. One biographer said, "He instigated, planned and dedicated more churches in our Conference than any other man."
In 1866 he retired and soon settled back in East Germantown. Here at his home, Rev. Shaefer died suddenly on December 20, 1869, at age 72. His grave, which should certainly be a shrine of Indiana Methodism, is clearly marked in the Pershing cemetery within sight of the now vacant old church building.
GPS of Pershing cemetery entrance: 39 48 42.76, -85 08 15.15
GPS at Rev. Shaefer's grave: 39 48 42.42, -85 08 15.93