The Lord’s Church In The Upper Midwest (1)

By Steve Wolfgang

For the last few summers it has been my privilege to work in a number of gospel meeting in, the Upper Midwestern states (Iowa, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Nebraska, etc.). In these labors I have: been supported largely by the Expressway Church here in ‘Louisville, where I have preached for several years (although in some instances, churches in the Upper Midwest and elsewhere have supplied some support in the form of men, money and materials for these efforts). The purpose of this article is to share some information on the work which has been done and give a personal estimate of the situation in these areas.

Let me begin by saying that it is with some trepidation that I undertake this article. I am obviously not “the authority” on the Lord’s work in the Upper Midwestern States, and no one is more keenly aware of that fact than I. I can fully understand and appreciate the irritation which brethren in areas like the Upper Midwest may have toward some who “blow into” such an area for a week or less and then return home to issue an immediate “write-up” on the conditions there, in which they present themselves and their opinions as “authoritative.” I have no desire to engage in such, and in this interest have asked several of the brethren who live in these areas with whom I have worked to read this article and offer comments and criticisms prior to publication. Some of them have asked me beforehand (some several times) to write such an article. Additionally, I am frequently asked to supply information about the churches in these areas by brethren in other parts of the country who are curious about and interested in the work being done in the Upper Midwest. No doubt there are others more experienced and capable than I as far as providing information and assessing conditions in these Midwestern states, but for various reasons they have chosen not to do so. I fully realize (having already been subjected to criticism by one brother who did not share my estimate of the condition of things in one place) that there may be some who will perhaps object to some aspects of my observations. Recognizing that my judgment is not perfect and that I may well be mistaken in some respects, I ask simply that I be allowed to hold and express my own judgments in these and other matters, even as other brethren have the same right. The brethren seem not to have much timidity in criticizing my preaching (though they have generally been very kind), and I ask only the freedom to express my own assessment of the situation. With these considerations in mind, I submit this article with the desire and intention that only good will result.

An Able Co-Worker

in several of the meetings in which I have been involved in the Upper Midwest (as well as in other areas such as the Northeast), 1 have worked with an able fellow gospel preacher, Steve Ballou. 1 first met Steve several years ago when I was preaching in Atlanta, Georgia, and he was working not far away, just across the state line in Jacksonville, Alabama. Steve moved to the Louisville area in 1974, and I moved to the Expressway church there not long afterward.

Immediately after my coming to Expressway, the elders proposed to support me in a ten-day effort in Davenport, Iowa, assuming much of the financial burden for most aspects of that meeting. Several Expressway members (including two of the elders) are chiropractors by profession, graduates of Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, and thus have ties with that area stretching back over the years to as long ago as the 1930’s. For the last six or eight years, various children of these Expressway members have been attending school in Davenport, and Expressway had previously supported several men to work there locally in years gone by. Thus there has been a continued personal interest in the condition of the church in Davenport.

During the course of planning for this first meeting, Steve and I had been working together for several weeks on a call-in radio program here in Louisville. When he informed me that he had been born in Davenport and raised just across the Mississippi River in Moline, Illinois, another of the contiguous “Quad Cities” (which also include Rock Island, Illinois and Bettendorf, Iowa), Steve was invited to come and participate in the meeting, thus beginning a “partnership in the gospel” which continues to this present time. Raised a Lutheran by parents who are yet members of that denomination, Steve attended the University of Illinois and then transferred to the University of Alabama, intending to play football there. While a student there, he met a faithful Christian from Birmingham, Margaret McKenzie, whom he later married after becoming a Christian and beginning to preach. Steve has been an able co-worker whose diligence and ability would likely shame some twice his age, even though he has been a Christian only about eight years. Together he and I have experienced many things, including a hurricane (Belle, which struck across Long Island Sound while we were staying just off the Connecticut coastline during a meeting) and an automobile accident (in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when a speeding car ran a red light and totally demolished my car, though neither of us was very seriously injured, suffering only assorted cuts, bruises and abrasions). Together Steve and I have known the drudgery and disappointment of working hot afternoons knocking on doors in spiritually desolate and apathetic places; and together we have shared the ecstasy and elation of watching souls respond to the power of the gospel through such efforts. Both of us having been born and raised in the Midwest, we have had numerous occasions to reflect on the religious “peculiarities” of the region. Growing out of our experience together in doing call-in radio broadcasts, we have made a feature of the meetings we have conducted together a period for questions from the audience – many of whom are not members of the church – following the lesson, which we feel has proved to be a valuable aspect of these meetings. I am happy to be able to continue our association together this coming summer.

Davenport, Iowa

Featured on the cover of this week’s issue is a picture of the meeting place for the faithful church in Davenport, a city of over 100,000 people within the city limits. It, along with the neighboring city of Bettendorf, Iowa, is located across the Mississippi River from two sister cities, Moline and Rock Island, Illinois. According to the 1970 census, these “Quad Cities” comprise a population of roughly a quarter of a million people. While there are churches in the area which claim to be New Testament churches, they have perverted the work of the church by tying human institutions to the Lord’s body.

The Midwest (and I speak as one born and raised there) partakes of a peculiar religious apathy, and even churches which profess to be the Lord’s church (but are adulterously wed to human institutions) are often shallow, insipid, and difficult to distinguish from a human denomination. The faithful brethren in Davenport have been meeting in a typically Midwestern one-room schoolhouse, constructed in the 1870’s. It is owned by the “Christian Reformed Church” which operates a nursery school in it during the day. This necessitates the brethren coming over each afternoon .before meeting, removing the pre-school equipment, erecting exterior signs, carrying folding chairs out of the basement, distributing song books, Bibles and tracts, setting up any charts, overhead projectors, screens, etc., necessary for the service. We are caused to reflect often on the many things we have and take for granted in other places.

Steve Ballou and I have made it a practice to attempt to contact and study with preachers and brethren in some of these churches in various places in the Midwest where we have conducted meetings. We have done this in the (often misplaced) hope that in these areas where the lines of division are sometimes not as clearly drawn there may be some who attend these liberal churches still interested in providing a “thus-saith-the-Lord” for their practice. Occasionally, we have made promising contacts with some in such churches, which have resulted in good being done. However, two incidents in Davenport more nearly reflect the true nature of the case across the Upper Midwest. During our first meeting there several years ago, we were told by one preacher at a liberal church that he was “not interested in wasting his time with us” since we were “just a little bunch of antis meeting in a hole-in-a-wall” even though, by his own admission we were having attendance as large or larger than at the congregation he worked with = as if “numbers” had anything to do with the truth, anyway! We were able to study briefly with the preacher and “assistant minister” of the largest liberal church in the Quad-Cities area – a congregation of about 100 members (not including the “joy bused”!). However, during my last meeting (in 1977) in Davenport, this same preacher indicated he was not interested in pursuing our study, insisting that a church without elders was an “infant church” and, therefore, not subject to the New Testament teaching regarding the work of a congregation! The “assistant preacher,” who had since moved across the river to another church, summarily and unceremoniously evicted me from the premises after `five minutes of discussion!

However, even though our own “brethren” (who preach to denominationalists about being open-minded and always willing to study and defend the truth) were not so willing to study, we found many promising contacts among people in the community. As with all of our meetings in the Midwest, we were kept busy in Davenport with personal calls, home studies, door-to-door contacts, and visits with institutional and even denominational preachers. There are plenty of contacts to keep anyone busy for a week or longer in any of the places we visited. In fact, as Steve said to me one night after midnight, returning from a home study following the evening service, “You know, I’m really glad preachers don’t have to work, because if this isn’t `working’ and I had to go to work, it would kill me!”

Since our first meeting in Davenport several years ago, both Steve and I have held at least one meeting each for the church there, and have had occasion to visit with the brethren at other times. The church in Davenport has recently received a significant boost when A1 Diestelkamp and his brother-in-law, Karl Hennecke, and their families moved into the area to begin full-time work together. AI not only grew up largely in the Midwest (he is the son of Leslie Diestelkamp who is responsible for much of the growth among faithful churches in Wisconsin and Minnesota since World War 1l), but he has had experience in working with small groups just beginning to “get on their feet.” He comes from the Paris Avenue Church in Peoria, Illinois, only 80 miles south of the Quad Cities, and prior to that worked and built up the small group meeting in Avondale, Pennsylvania. We have every reason to feel confident that, with the skilled labor in the gospel which these two men can provide, the church in Davenport will grow in strength as well as numerically. My father-inlaw, W.C. Ashworth, is to be with the brethren for a meeting in 1979. The building pictured on the front of this issue has been the meeting place of the church for the last several years, but plans are under way to move to a better location. Al’s address is 2601 Cypress Dr., Bettendorf, Iowa 52722 and his phone number is (319) 355-1077.

Central Iowa

Throughout central Iowa there are several groups of Christians who meet, sometimes in private homes, attempting to be faithful to the New Testament order. We have no way of knowing how many such groups there may be, and are not attempting to compile an exhaustive list of “faithful churches,” but we do know of several. Brother Dana Emery has recently moved from working with Brother Fred England in Connecticut to work with the group at Grinnell, Iowa. Since he has been in Grinnell, he reports many home studies and good prospects for growth. The church in Grinnell meets at 1042 Third Avenue, Grinnell, Iowa 50112. Brother Emery can be contacted at 101 Fourth Avenue, Apt. No. 4 (phone 515-236-5523). Another person who could be contacted about the work is Doug See. His number in Grinnell is 498-2247. Brother Emery lost $400 per month support as of January 1, 1979. Churches interested in supporting him should contact him directly to discuss the work there.

In past years there has been a church which met in Marion, Iowa, adjacent to Cedar Rapids. There is no group meeting there as of this writing, but there is a nucleus for a congregation and there are hopes of reviving the work in Marion. Brother Emery has been exploring the possibility of getting a group meeting again in Marion. One of the members at Grinnell lives in Marion and drives to Grinnell each Lord’s day. This brother, John Clark, may be contacted at (319) 337-6924.

There is also a group which has been meeting for thirty years, perhaps longer, in Madrid, Iowa, northwest of Des Moines. Brother Nolan Anderson has preached at Madrid since at least the early 1950’s, moving there from southern Minnesota. Brother Guthrie Dean, of the Franklin Road church in Nashville, has done meeting work in Madrid, and Brother Julian Snell of the Manslick Road congregation in Louisville has conducted several meetings for the group in Grinnell. Nolan Anderson can be reached at 515-795-2546.

There may be other groups meeting elsewhere in the state,’but these groups we know about. There are also instances of faithful Christians who are forced by their circumstances to meet with churches which, while perhaps not now supporting human institutions or engaging in other such unscriptural practices, either have done so in the past or have definite sympathies with such practices. We know of one sister who, though opposing such practices lived with her husband (who does not share her convictions) in a small town where the only “Church of Christ” has definite tendencies, toward institutionalism and centralization, being under the influence of several liberal churches in Texas and Tennessee. Though she and her family have recently moved to another state and she is now in better spiritual circumstances, while living in this small Iowa town she was faced with the unenviable choice of attending this particular church (the nearest group opposing such practices being 100 miles away) and exposing her children to such concepts, or creating greater tension within her family and absenting the church’s assemblies while attempting to worship alone at home. There are likely other such instances not only in Iowa but elsewhere in the upper Midwestern states. How many of these saints cry out to the Lord for relief is known only to Him.

Des Moines, Iowa

Brother Nolan Anderson’s son, Ron, moved from Baytown, Texas to Des Moines last year to begin working with a group of brethren in that place. they began meeting with 22 members in August, 1977. This new work began with five families, 11 adults and the remainder children, numbering a little over twenty. The church presently has about 25 and the attendance runs from about 25-40 depending upon the number of visitors. Two were baptized this past year thus far, and they are hopeful for others. Brother J.T. Smith from Long Beach, California, concluded a gospel meeting at this congregation in May of ’78. The address of the meeting place is 1490 N.W. 86th St., Des moines, IA 50311. Brother Ron Anderson’s address is 409 N.W. chapel Dr., Ankeny, IA 50021, phone (515) 9645440. Other members include Gene Embry (home phone 989-4237 and office phone 262-3307) and Harold Ritchie (phone 225-9258). The meeting place in Des Moines is easily accessible, and is located on a main thoroughfare. The brethren are meeting temporarily at this location, which is a suite in an office building, while looking for a more permanent location.

Sioux City, Iowa

The church in Sioux City, on the far western border of Iowa, at the junction of Nebraska and South Dakota, has experienced good growth in the last several years. For a good while, it consisted of only the Meyer family (Glenn and Shirley and their children, Carol, Randy and Cathy) who live on a farm near Bancroft, Nebraska, 40 miles from Sioux City. After Brother Howard Miller moved away to preach in Duncan, Oklahoma, in 1974, the Meyers were the only ones in attendance, and it would have been far easier for them to have simply given up meeting in Sioux City and meet simply in their home. But they had taken over a good meeting place in Sioux city and decided to persevere. (See reports in Truth Magazine, 19:39 [August 14, 1975], pp. 609, 613; and 21:45 [November 17, 1977], p. 706). Several congregations provided men and the assistance to allow numerous gospel preachers to come several times for extended periods of preaching and visiting contacts in the community. In addition to Steve Ballou and myself, men such as John Brewer and Art Adams from the Hammond, Indiana area, Denny Meyer from Denver, Vic McCormick from Indianapolis, and others (this list is not exhaustive) came for various periods of work in Sioux City over the past several years. Frank Driver, who formerly preached at Sioux City and whose articles on the work there frequently appeared in the papers during the 1950’s and 1960’s, has returned to Sioux City several times for periods of work accompanied by Johnnie Horton who preaches where Bro. Driver now works in Ft. Collings, Colorado. Among those who worked diligently were also Carl (Mac) McMurry and his wife, Lorna. In April of 1977 Mac and Lorna moved to Sioux City to live and work full-time in that area. With Mac’s leadership, the church in Sioux City has grown considerably, and now often has in excess of forty people for worship services at the building at 1218 South Glass Street. The Meyers continue to attend there and, as always, are diligently continuing to work to build up the church in that place. Mac’s address is Rt. 2, 70-F, S. Sioux City, Nebraska 68776, phone 402-494-2327. Meyer’s address is Rt. 2, Box 71, Bancroft, Nebraska, 68004, phone 402-648-7692.

There are other places in the state (and elsewhere in the upper Midwest) where doors are opening for the truth. Some of the members of a church about 75 miles from Sioux City have invited this writer to come and spend several days of personal study, in lieu of a “gospel meeting” with public preaching, to knock on doors and to study some of the issues which have divided the Lord’s church in the state of Iowa and other places. In the midst of the sort of attitude expressed by one individual in Sioux City that he could no longer help us advertise a meeting because he had “called the center of the Church of Christ in Iowa (it is in Des Moines, in case you’re wondering SW) and we were not on the list,” this kind of invitation is heartening. (In fairness to this particular brother, it should be said that he later “retracted” his statement, informing us that Des Moines, rather than being the center of the church, was merely the headquarters of the “Iowa Campaigns for Christ”).

Truth Magazine XXIII: 15, pp. 247-250
April 12, 1979