Circuit-riding Methodist ministers held religious services in Pokagon Township during the 1830s and 1840s. A class was organized in Sumnerville in 1840. In 1876 the Methodists purchased this building, which had been built in 1862 as a hops barn, and renovated it as a church. They constructed a belfry and installed pews and stained glass windows in pointed frames. In this church, in 1913, “The Old Rugged Cross” was sung in its entirety for the first time. The following year the Methodists purchased the nearby Baptist Church, selling this building to John Phillips who used it as a storage barn. In 1998 the Pokagon United Methodist Church reacquired the church for restoration.
In January 1913 the Reverend Leroy O. Bostwick, assisted by the Reverend George Bennard of Albion, held a series of religious revivals at the Pokagon Methodist Episcopal Church. Before the event, the Dowagiac Daily News predicated a large attendence, announcing “Mr. Bennard is a sweet singer and a splendid gospel preacher.” Bennard had begun composing the hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” while in Albion the previous year. He completed the hymn here in preparation for the revival services. During the revival it was sung publically for the first time by the Pokagon Methodist Episcopal Church choir. Impressed by Bennard’s hymn, the Reverend and Mrs. Bostwick financed its first printing. The “Old Rugged Cross” quickly became one of the popular hymns in the United States.
Photo By Duane Hall, April 22, 2013 HMDB
The Old Rugged Cross Foundation, Inc. was formed for the purpose of saving and restoring the old church where the hymn made its public debut, and preserving the history of the hymn and its author. Once restored as closely as possible to its 1913 appearance, the church will serve as a museum, preserving the history of the hymn and the community. The museum will be useful for historical research and the sanctuary will be available to rent for weddings and special services.
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