ELIZABETH TWP. — With weekly church attendance between 80 and 100, Cove Spring Church’s history runs deep as one of Miami County’ oldest surviving churches — the second oldest in Elizabeth Township — with an active membership and generations of family who continue to worship each Sunday.
The church will celebrate its anniversary Sunday by opening up a time capsule buried in 1990. The congregation will also bury another time capsule to be opened in 2040.
“Our worship service will incorporate many of our church’s Anniversary Sunday traditions, and we are looking forward to a homecoming of sorts for former members and former pastors,”said Ben Sutherly, Cove Spring Church historian. “Above all, we’ll be thanking God that He has seen fit to work through our congregation during the past 200 years and has blessed us in so many ways.”
In keeping with tradition, following the anniversary service, attendees will gather to have a congregational photo and end its celebration with an old-fashioned potluck across the road on the grounds of the Elizabeth Township Community Center. The church will have its history exhibit on display at the community center.
HISTORY OF COVE SPRING CHURCH
One of Miami County’s oldest surviving churches and the second oldest in Elizabeth Township, Cove Spring Church grew out of the New Light movement. Organized in 1815, Cove Spring was most influenced by the Kentucky movement, in which Barton W. Stone and his followers dissolved their Presbyterian relationship in favor of a church less complicated, less dedicated to the use of creeds as tests of belief, and more open to the reunion of Christians.
Born into a Presbyterian family in Pennsylvania, Samuel Kyle (1788-1836) became part of Barton W. Stone’s splinter movement in Kentucky. He, his brother Thomas, and his parents, Samuel and Mary Bell Kyle, brought this new thinking with them to Ohio, moving to what would become Miami County in 1803. In 1807, Thomas Kyle became the first minister licensed to perform marriages in newly formed Miami County (he died soon after of “milk sickness”).
The Miami County courts ordained Samuel Kyle in 1810, when he was 21 years old. Before the “New Lights” organized in Miami County, Samuel Kyle held prayer meetings in homes, particularly John Gearheart’s on Gearhart Road. He married twice and had 12 children. One of his sons, Col. Barton S. Kyle, was killed at Shiloh on April 6, 1862; his youngest son, Isaac, farmed the family homestead into the late 1800s.
Brother Kyle, as the congregation knew him, gathered the New Lights in a small log schoolhouse near a cove by a spring between present-day Tipp-Elizabeth, Walnut Grove, Rudy and Gearhart roads. Mention of this schoolhouse is made as early as 1818 in church records; it likely was built about the time the church organized in October 1815. Some of the early families were the Manns, Dyes, Shidakers, Harters (ancestors of Mary Jane Harter Coleman Hayner) and Kyles.
Members of the Kyle family still attend Anniversary Sunday celebrations to this day, and they are a very special link to the past for our church, noted Sutherly.
The New Lights adopted their statement of faith on Oct. 5, 1815: “We who are professors of Christianity, and living at some distance from any regular church, have thought it expedient to unite in a church capacity as a branch of the Christian Church, called Cove Spring Church, taking the Holy Scriptures as our only rule of faith and practice and strength of divine grace, Amen.”
John Johnston, the Indian agent in Piqua, had an interpreter who had lived among the Indians.
His name was John Flinn, and he was one of the early members of Cove Spring Church. John Johnston wrote this about Flinn: “One of my interpreters … paid me a visit, part of his errand was to get my advice relative to the kind of religion he would take up, that his white neighbors were divided, one recommending one system and another different, that his mind was confused so that he was at a loss what to do. He felt it was his duty to adopt one. I told him my religion (Protestant Episcopal) would not suit him at all for two reasons: because he could not read the Common Prayer Book, and there were no Christians of that denomination in his neighborhood, that all the sects taught men to be just and good, kind and charitable, that he might choose any of them and if he faithfully followed their teachings, he might be assured of happiness in the life to come. I have been informed that he united with the Christians, or New Lights.”
Early church records are mostly entries explaining why church leaders were excluding members. “Going to a frolic” or “drinking at Benjamin Dye’s corn husking on Thursday night last” meant expulsion. Sometimes members were reinstated; more often, they were not. In 1822, members used grain to pay for subscriptions to Cove Spring; they were credited 50 cents per bushel of wheat, 33 1/3 cents per bushel of rye, and 25 cents per bushel of corn.
FOUNDATION, FAITH AND FELLOWSHIP
The New Light congregation built a brick Morehouse in 1822. Fire destroyed that church, and in 1846, a brick church was built on the site of the present church at 5705 Walnut Grove Road. This old brick church was formally dedicated on January 23, 1853.
In January 1897, the forerunner of the Women’s Fellowship began. At their first event in 1898, the “Ladies Aid” prepared a supper at the township house next door to the church, selling tickets for 15 cents each to raise money for a vestibule and bell. The group changed its name to Women’s Fellowship in 1953, and they remain active in the church.
Fire destroyed the century-old church after Sunday services on Jan. 27, 1946. Items saved included the pulpit Bible, the piano (later donated to Elizabeth school), caned-bottom chairs, hymnals, and the communion service.
Church functions were held in the township school across the road while the church was rebuilt at a cost of $45,000. The bell came from an old church in Bloomer, Ohio; bricks salvaged from the old church were used in the new church’s walls. The cornerstone was laid on June 22, 1947; it was dedicated on September 26, 1948. Since then, it has been tradition to celebrate church anniversaries on the last Sunday of September.
For decades, Cove Spring was known simply as a Christian church, a statement of unity with other Christian churches that dates back to the days of Barton W. Stone. In 1931, Cove Spring and other Christian churches merged with the Congregationalists to form the Congregational Christian Church. In 1963, when the Congregational Christian and Evangelical Reformed churches merged, the church was renamed Cove Spring United Church of Christ. In 2000, Cove Spring withdrew from the United Church of Christ, and became Cove Spring Church. It has remained independent ever since.
Front row, left to right: Don Trostel, Kennard Todd, Kenny Lee Schaefer, Richard Knife, Nelson Trostel
Back row, left to right: Bill Wallace, Dick Sutherly, Lowell Trostel, Robert Van Auken, Bob Sutherly
Ben Sutherly is the Cove Spring Church historian and a life-time resident of Elizabeth Township.