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Gering’s oldest church celebrates 125 years
July 18, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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Photo by Jerry Purvis/Gering Citizen - This past Sunday, the congregation of the Gering United Methodist Church celebrated its 125th anniversary. Since 2008, their pastor has been the Rev. Lauren Ekdahl.

It was 1886, before Gering had become a town, when the families of R.M. Hanks and E.P. Cromer organized a Sunday school. Two years later, the school became an official congregation – the Gering Methodist Church. That was the same year, in 1888, when Scotts Bluff County was organized.

Soon after becoming a church, William Amsbary was appointed as presiding elder and preached occasionally.
On Sunday, July 14, during the Oregon Trail Days celebration, about 220 people showed up to help celebrate the church’s 125th year of service to the community. They also had a float in the celebration’s parade to honor the event.

After Sunday services, church members hosted a hog roast barbecue, assisted by Boy Scouts Troop 16, which the church sponsors.
Also attending the celebration was the United Methodist district superintendent and former pastor Hughes Morris Jr., who served in the early 1980s.

Rev. Lauren Ekdahl, the church’s current pastor, read a history of the church for those in attendance.
“I retired from the position of district superintendent in 2007 but I flunked retirement,” Ekdahl said. “The bishop said Gering needed help, so I came here in 2008. Six years later, I’m having such a great time I don’t know when I’ll officially retire. This works gives me good people to relate to and good work to do.”

In the 1950s, church attendance was up significantly in America, and Gering Methodist was no different. In those years, the church was drawing close to 1,500 members. Today, they have about 300 settled members.

“We’re in a good frame of reference for future growth,” Ekdahl said. “We’re working on way to reach out more in the community to draw in younger members.”
He said the membership decline is in part due to changes in society, where more things are being done on Sunday.

“The church was not only the center of spiritual growth for individuals, but was also the social environment for a lot of people,” Ekdahl said. “It was a place where you could exercise influence and connect with your neighbors. People used to invest a lot in the relationships they had within the church. And relationships trump theology any day.”

Ekdahl concluded his history reading with the admonition, “After 125 years, I’m ready for the next 125. And I think God will provide for us as we move forward.”
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