The Chapel of the Cross (formerly known as United Methodist Church) had its beginning in the mid-1840’s, when a few of the religious leaders (mostly of German descent) in the farming community of North Lawrence, organized a United Brethren Church. Why they chose the United Bretheren faith… no one knows?
The original deed dated August 16, 1847 reads, “For the consideration of one dollar, received of Samuel Cook, Simon Weygandt and Jacob Gesaman, Trustees, for the use of the Church of the United Bretheren in Christ, and their successors in office.” It was signed over by Mr. Gesaman, and provided for one acre of land to be used for the erection of a meeting house and graveyard. Apparently, Jacob Gesaman donated one acre from his large 320 acre farm surrounding the site. Tradition has said that he also gave $100 toward the construction of a meeting house and a clock to be placed in it.
The church supposedly met first in the bank barn, directly north of Jacob’s farm, on what is now known as Twin Lakes. Little is known of the first building, but it was surely completed by 1853, when the new congregation entertained the Muskingum Annual Conference.
Soon after its founding, the church was named Newman’s Creek Chapel. The name- “Newman’s Creek” because of the small stream that flowed through the North Lawrence community. The name- “Chapel”- because the community was (at that time) just a little outpost- truly a “Church in the Wildwood”. Orrville Street (Back Massillon) was no more than a one-lane pathway with dense foliage arching overhead. Local farmers complained of the nuisance of wildcats and bears carrying off their pigs from barnyards!
For some years, the pastor lived in Canal Fulton, preaching at Newman’s Creek in the morning and Canal Fulton and Clinton in the afternoon and evening. In fact, the Canal Fulton United Brethren building is now part of the St John’s Lutheran Church. By 1892, the Chapel congregation felt strong enough to support a pastor of its own. The Rev. Ellen R. King, a courageous pioneer (as a woman in the ministry) was the Chapel’s first full time pastor! She was very well received and very successful. A parsonage was completed in 1896, not far from the church on Urban Hill, about one mile to the west of the Chapel. The current parsonage, a brick ranch-style home, was built by the church and dedicated on Sept 27, 1970.
By 1874, the congregation had constructed a new building (shown at the right), and the old meetinghouse was moved down Orrville Street to become the residence of Mary Fletcher (recording this history) and later of Mrs Betty Dale (church organist and church secretary). The new building (most commonly just called ‘the Chapel’) had some very costly architectural features (for its time). It was a white frame structure, with high vaulted ceiling, Gothic style windows, the belfry topped with a bell tower and very tall spire.
Since then, there have been at least seven major remodeling projects, and the 1874 structure now serves as the Chapel’s Fellowship and Recreation Hall. In 1924, during the pastorate of Rev. Lawrence Spence, a large addition was completed in the west of the church (picture to the right). In 1952, the church was re-decorated and Schantz organ was installed and dedicated. In 1956, it was necessary to build again to accommodate the increase in membership. New Sunday School classrooms, a pastor’s study, a church nursery and seating for 100 more persons! The last remodeling was in 1968, under Rev. Clayton Gortner (pictured right). This provided for additional education facilities, a new beautiful sanctuary, a chapel, a modern kitchen, church library and new church offices, as well as a beautiful 12-rank Schantz Pipe Organ in 1970.
SO… in spite of being in a rural setting, with a widely diverse membership, the Chapel has thrived. From the beginning of a little, hallowed spot in the forest to our present times