An exterior shot of the Carland-Zion Brethren in Christ Church in Carland, Michigan. Photo by Laura Reppenhagen,
The Carland-Zion Brethren in Christ Church (located between Elsie and Owosso, Michigan) recently celebrated its 125th anniversary. “Tunker” families from Markham, Ontario Canada who emigrated to Michigan established the church in the mid-1880s. It was the first Brethren in Christ congregation in the state and played an important role in establishing other congregations in Michigan – many of which remain to this day.
Early members included the Jacob Meyer family, Bishop Samuel Baker, and Henry Schneider, Sr. and family. A thirteen-week revival meeting took place in a one-room schoolhouse in 1890 and construction began on the church building around the same time. The congregation had no resident pastor for many years, but services were led by various ministers with brief appointments. Shortly after the turn of the century, Michigan Bishop Jonathan Lyons served as pastor for nearly thirty years. During that time, Bishop Henry Schneider, Jr. also began his preaching ministry at Carland before moving to the Merrill congregation. Descendants of both the Lyons and Schneider families are still members of the congregation today.
Other pastors over the years included George Kiteley, Harry Brubaker, William H. Engle, Clinton Starr, Albert Brenaman, Harvey B. Stickley, Lloyd Melhorn, Jr., Roger Carr, Cyrus Lutz, Carl Lewis, Verle Brubaker, and Donald Bundenthal.
The original building remains in use today as the main worship sanctuary. A parsonage was built next door in 1948, and a fellowship hall was built in 1958. In the 1960s, the original church and fellowship hall were connected with a building that includes classrooms, a nursery, restrooms, and office space. At that time, the layout of the sanctuary was reversed, and the original entrance area became the pulpit/preaching area.
The congregation’s oldest member, Leoda Kiteley Brady, and her daughter, Mary Brady Ford. Leola is a descendant of Bishop Henry Schneider. Photo by Laura Reppenhagan.
Current Pastor Eric Stanton, who has served the congregation for more than twenty-five years, led a hymn sing and a time of sharing memories and stories from the past. Bishop John Zuck gave a brief message and a time of fellowship followed. Church members are gathering memories and stories which will be placed in a time capsule to be buried this fall.
Long-time member Alta Downey Sisco composed a poem for the church’s centennial in 1990. The poem is still a fitting testimony of the church’s 125 years of outreach to the communities it serves in mid-Michigan:
“The Little White Church at the Crossroads”
“Go and preach the gospel,” was the task assigned to all,
Who would follow Jesus in answer to His call?
Down through the years, the faithful carried out the Lord’s command,
Preaching the gospel everywhere…even in Michigan!
The message was brought, conviction fell, and people found the Lord
Because the Word that was preached to them was sharp as a two-edged sword.
And now the need for a meeting place, a house in which to meet,
To worship God and grow in grace and fellowship so sweet.
A little white church at the crossroads would be the ideal site,
In which to carry out God’s work, and thus send forth the light.
Its rays penetrating the darkness, the darkness of sin and night.
Pastors came and pastors went, but each the truth made plain,
Salvation is through Christ alone, by works we can’t attain.
He paid the price on Calvary’s cross, so we could be forgiven,
Our sins all covered by the blood assures a home in heaven.
The Scriptures were the basis for the truths they brought,
Instruction in holy living was among the things they taught.
People who came faced the crossroads of life; a choice of which way to take,
Some chose to follow Christ – the only right choice to make.
But some rejected the message and took the downward way,
How sad for them when called to account upon the Judgement Day!
The years have slipped by, a century has passed,
The little white church is still standing fast.
In proclaiming the message of God’s love for man,
And the blessings provided in His wondrous plan.
To those who pass by, it still points the way,
To life everlasting, and heaven some day!
Jonathan Stanton is the son of Eric Stanton, current pastor of the Carland-Zion congregation. Jon lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his wife and serves on the editorial committee for Shalom!, a Brethren in Christ publication on peace and justice issues. Much of this information is from a brief history of the church written by Anna Kiteley in 1959.