Small communities often thrive with the presence of a school, which serves as a backbone and brings people together.
It has been years since Kurtz had its own school, so the small Jackson County community in Owen Township has relied on another structure that can help a town thrive: A church.
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As other churches in the area have shut their doors, Kurtz Church of the Nazarene has stood the test of time.
Earlier this month, the church celebrated its 100th anniversary.
It serves as the backbone and heart of the community.
“This is it. If we let these doors close, Kurtz is gone,” longtime church member Rose Wray said. “When the school goes, a big part goes. Then all we’ve got left is the fire station, but they didn’t build it for the community. It’s not even built to have community functions. When these (church) doors close, it’s gone.”
Fortunately, the doors are still open, and the church continues to serve as a key gathering place for the community and surrounding area.
“It’s great that they’ve kept it up and kept it going,” Wray said. “I am very thankful.”
No matter what’s going on in the community — good or bad — everyone supports each other, Wray said.
“It’s marvelous, and it’s the dedication and the love of the members and the community,” she said of the church’s longevity. “They come and they give. We’re what you call the outreach. We just cling together. If anybody’s in trouble and needs anything, buddy, one call and that’s it. It’s very nice.”
The church building’s history goes back to 1887 when railroads were being built across Indiana. John Welsh and John Geist, who had backing from a Chicago bank, decided there needed to be a railroad from Seymour to Bedford.
They hired Harry Kurtz, an attorney-at-law from Princeton, to do the contracting work to get the right of ways bought. Because the area was centrally located between Seymour and Bedford and close to Salt Creek, he named the town Kurtz.
It was mapped out and had 300 lots to auction off in 1889, and in 10 months, the town was booming. Trains ran twice daily, and there were 40 buildings and 100 people living there.
In 1892, the community decided a church needed to be built for all denominations to have church services. The building was completed and dedicated in 1894, and it was called Union Church.
In 1920, a tent revival with a board altar and sawdust floor was conducted across the street from the church. As a result, the superintendent of the Indianapolis District came and organized Kurtz Church of the Nazarene with 12 members. Seven of the 12 were relatives.
The Rev. W.J. Abraham was the first pastor.
Nazarenes, Methodists and Christians took turns conducting services in the building until charter member Robert A. Sutton bought the building for $40.
In 1933, a Civilian Conservation Corps camp was set up in the area, and that resulted in many of the young men, ages 18 to 25, going to the church for Sunday school.
“Those boys didn’t have anything to do on the weekends, so in the ‘30s, we ran 130 to 150 all the time,” Wray said of attendance.
Wray was born in 1934, and she and her parents started attending the church in 1935.
The church had its first full-time minister, the Rev. Frank Hawthorne, in 1944, and he and his wife, Mary, moved into a three-bedroom parsonage on Hendrix Street. That same year, an upstairs annex was added to the back of the church for Sunday school rooms.
The church had record attendance of 248 on Easter Sunday 1946, and that was broken the next Easter with 298 attendees.
“After World War II, when we had all of the factories in Columbus and the Kentuckians started coming up here wanting these factory jobs, that was our record attendance,” Wray said. “We raised the windows, and people just stood outside.”
The church had its own parsonage built in 1952. Virgil and Effie Scott offered a two-story house in Seymour to the church, and a group of men tore it down and used the pieces to construct a seven-room Bedford limestone parsonage next door to the church.
A big construction project was completed in 1979, resulting in new restrooms, a drinking fountain, a nursery and a large basement meeting room and a remodeled sanctuary, turning the entrance from the front to the back.
A new fellowship hall was built in 1995 on lots given to the church from the Zora Prather estate.
“My husband died in December (1995), and we had our first funeral dinner,” Wray said. “We’re noted for big home-cooked funeral dinners for everybody that dies, so I’ve been over that for ages.”
A Ladies in Fellowship Together group was directed by Sherrie Shelton for two years until Wray took over for the next seven years. Meetings consisted of a devotion and crafts, and members went out to restaurants and other places.
“We had good attendance at that,” Wray said. “I had 25, 30 ladies, and we went places and ate and did crafts and all that.”
Youth involvement also has been key to the church’s success, Wray said. Vacation Bible school started in 1950 and has always been a big draw along with Kids Club and a youth group.
The Rev. Jodie George is the current pastor for youth and children.
“A lot of youth live away, but yet they still come back because their parents are coming or their parents live around there,” Wray said. “They have kept an active youth program, and I give that a lot of credit.”
The church’s current pastor, the Rev. Floyd Fisher, was installed Oct. 11, 2009. He’s the 30th pastor in the church’s 100 years.
“The community is what stands out to me about the church,” Fisher said. “The church is at the center of the community, and the church is a multigenerational church with deep and long ties to the community. I believe the church is a stable and long-term asset in the community. I seek to serve as the pastor to our community.”
The community-minded focus of the church and its people is the greatest asset, he said.
“One example is the church seeks to provide a place for families who are grieving the loss of a loved one buried at Kurtz Cemetery,” he said. “(They) can come and use our facilities to share a meal of home-cooked food.”
This year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Fisher got creative when nonessential businesses were closed and public gatherings were not allowed. Drive-in church was established, allowed people to sit in their vehicles in the parking lot and turn their radios on to hear the Sunday morning message.
Shortly after, a praise team was added to provide music for the services. Then the church started video streaming the services, giving people a chance to watch it live or later.
The church partnered with Jackson County REMC to provide a free Wi-Fi hot spot so people could remain in their vehicles or at home and watch the services on their computer or cellphone.
By the end of June, churches could reopen for worship in limited numbers. At Kurtz, social distancing was required, and wearing of face masks was optional. Services still were videoed for those not comfortable with attending in person.
“Our membership is 145, and our attendance average prepandemic was 67,” Fisher said. “I don’t know how to measure our attendance during the pandemic. We certainly have a larger online presence than an in-person presence. We are thankful for the Eli Lilly technology grant we received, which has enabled us to have the technology we could purchase.”
A revival to commemorate the church’s 100th anniversary was Oct. 11. A booklet containing information and pictures of the church’s history assembled by Wray was distributed to members.
“As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Kurtz Church of the Nazarene, it is with a spirit of humility and with hearts overflowing with praise we are deeply grateful for the sacrifices which have been made through the years by those who have gone before us,” Wray wrote in her final comments in the booklet.
“Let us lift our hearts and voices in praise for God’s wonderful grace that abounds,” she said. “May we realize the great eternal significance in serving together as we help build the kingdom of God.”
Fisher said he looks forward to the future of the church.
“If we are to sustain another 100 years, we will have to continue to love and serve God and our community,” he said. “Kurtz Church of the Nazarene: A church with a history that gives us a future.”
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Kurtz Church of the Nazarene is at 5858 N. Cleveland St., Kurtz.
Worship services are at 10:30 a.m. Sundays.
Information: Call 812-995-2711 or visit kurtznaz.org or facebook.com/kurtz1920