The Root River Church of the Brethren, which served the rural Preston/Harmony area for more than 160 years, will hold its last service on Saturday, April 22.
CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER The Root River Church of the Brethren, which served the rural Preston/Harmony area for more than 160 years, will hold its last service on Saturday, April 22.
The closing of many small rural churches has become all too familiar throughout the United States. Unfortunately, Fillmore County is not immune to this regrettable occurrence. A number of rural churches have been forced to close their doors in recent years, most recently, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (Big Springs) near Harmony.

The Root River Church of the Brethren, rural Preston, will be joining that list. The once vibrant congregation, established more than 160 years ago, will hold its final service at the church on Saturday, April 22.

“Even though we’ve been dealing with this for a couple of years now, it’s still so sad,” said church member Kay Himlie of Harmony. “It was always such a nice place to worship, out in the country. It was so peaceful and quiet and something to look forward to, traveling out to the church on Sunday mornings.”

Like many small rural churches, the Church of the Brethren experienced declining membership numbers in recent years. The congregation couldn’t afford a full-time minister for many years and hadn’t even had a part-time minister in the pulpit since 2010. Himlie noted that the last official church service held in the church was Christmas of 2015.

“We were meeting the first and third Sundays of the month, at the end, with maybe 10 persons attending church,” Himlie recalled. “There just weren’t enough members to sustain it anymore.”

The church and adjoining parsonage will be put up for sale. The Prairie Queen Cemetery, which has operated under a separate organization, will continue to function.

The church celebrated its 150th anniversary July 8 and 9 of 2006.

According to church history, in the spring of 1855, several German Baptist Brethren, commonly known as Dunkers, left their homes in Maryland. After a six-week journey by covered wagon, they settled in Fillmore county, southwest of Preston. The following year they organized the Root River church.

The 13 original charter members were John and Elizabeth Ogg, Joseph and Susan Ogg, Robert and Rebecca Broadwater, Peter and Mary Zebaugh, Samuel and Catherine Shook, Jonas and Fannie Maust and Mahala Ogg Fishbaugher.

For several years the group met in homes, granaries, and schoolhouses. Baptisms were held in the Root River, about five miles to the north. The group held its first Love Feast in 1858. The first Sunday school was organized in 1868.

The first church building was erected in 1872. It was a frame structure, measuring 40 by 80 feet without a basement. The entrance on the south had two doors, one for men and one for women. The women sat on one side of the church and the men on the other.

The present day church building was completed in 1905. The parsonage was built in 1909, using timbers from the original church. In 1916, two acres of land was purchased across from the church and two large barns were built to hold 20 teams of horses. The barns were disposed of in the 1950s and the land was used for a parking lot.

In 1905, the Ladies Aid group was organized. A men’s group and youth group were also organized about this time. For many years, beginning in the 1950s, the Church of the Brethren, Greenleafton Reformed and Cherry Grove Methodist had joined in ecumenical Bible school, Lenten, Thanksgiving, Good Friday and World Day of Prayer services.

Additions were made to the church building in 1961, providing five classrooms, a nursery, library, office and restrooms for the congregation.

Located about a mile east of the community of Greenleafton, on Fillmore County Road 20, the Root River Church of the Brethren had served as a place of worship for nearly 160 years.

The April 22 event will begin at 2 p.m. with former ministers Rev. James Tomlonson, who served the church from 1975 to 1982, and Rev. Lorene Moore, who was the last minister to serve the church, as the featured speakers. A brass band will also be part of the service.