Danbury United Methodist Church, the little church under the water tower, recently celebrated its centennial in big ways. On August 4, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, Resident Bishop of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church preached and joined Pastor Eddie Crise in serving communion at the service of worship. “Continue doing good things in God’s name,” said the Bishop, “be ambassadors for Jesus in your community; never give up—the way to stay alive is to keep breathing.” A fellowship brunch followed the service.
On Saturday September 14, the church set up tents on Water Street, and said to all in the community, “Please join us for a light meal and an evening of gospel music.” Members of the Danbury Fire and Rescue grilled and served food. Glory Train, an instrumental and singing group from the area presented the Gospel in song and witness. As the heavens rumbled and poured forth a heavy rain, the people
sent back joyful spirits—reminiscent of early tent meetings in the church’s history.
Pastor Crise led the next day’s Sunday worship in the 100-year-old church building. The service of gratitude and praise to God for a century of grace and love began with an instrumental duet by brothers Ethan and Alex Carr, representing youth who have brought music for ten decades. Superintendant of the Northwest District of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Rev. Barbara Ceta-Warner’s sermon was centered on mission, reminding church members on this milestone day, “We are not done; we have a mission given to us by Jesus, himself. We are empowered by God to produce love, inclusive for all humankind.” Former pastors who participated in the service were Jeff Nicholas, Andrea (Smithbeck) Babowski, Cindy Glocke, and Gil White. Many former members and friends of the church stayed for coffee fellowship afterward, perusing pictures and the church’s history.
The church began with various evangelists and preachers from several denominations who were active in the Danbury area prior to 1915. Worshipers first gathered in tents, then in the depot and a railroad car brought in on weekends. In that era, churches were started where people lived, near the railroad. Indeed, in 1915 the Soo Line donated two lots for the Methodist Episcopal church. World War I happened; building was delayed. It was written that by 1919, women had cleared much of the land, which sat a block from more than 20 businesses on Main Street. Constructed mostly by volunteers, the church building was dedicated on November 2, 1919 with special dedication of the prominent stained glass window inscribed. “Donated by the Ladies Aid Society as a token of thankfulness to God for the boys who came back from the war of 1919.” The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Danbury was on its way--served by The Rev. Ernest Barber, also the pastor at Lewis Methodist Episcopal Church.
Records say the new church was expected to start other new churches in the outlying areas. At one point, there were three groups: Pansy Landing, Webb Lake, and Ogema, meeting under the leadership of the pastor at Danbury. Because of The Depression and dry years of the 30s, many farms failed—people left the area--the three outlying churches did not survive. An interesting fact is that one pastor, Bart Padon and his wife Anne served the church in 1921 and again from 1927-1930 when they lived in the church basement. Within three years, the pastor had used his carpentry skills to build a parsonage near the church. He also supplemented his income by owning and operating a telephone system for the area. With the switchboard in the parsonage, he could “keep in touch” with the community! In order to survive during the 30s, two church members frequently canvassed businesses in town for financial support. The church has been involved in serving its community, and the community, in turn, has been supportive.
Through the years, “Danbury UMC” opened its doors to serve as a school classroom when the Danbury school burned. It also provided space for a Headstart classroom, hosted High School graduations, started the annual Hunter’s Dinner. During the presidential election of Herbert Hoover residents met at the church to listen to election results on a radio. To this day, AA meets in the downstairs dining room on Thursdays at noon. The congregation is committed to welcoming all people as it strives to be present to help meet needs. Approximately one-third of the small congregation lends hands and hearts to monthly efforts of Ruby’s Pantry in Danbury; most members volunteer elsewhere, as well.
Because of the “Episcopal-system” of governance, the Methodist church aligns and realigns congregations in order to support and provide pastoral leadership. Consequently, since 1938, Danbury has not had a resident pastor, and through the years has been part of combinations with Danbury-Lewis-Frederic-Lorraine-Clam Falls-Grantsburg-Siren churches. Danbury UMC and Grace UMC in Webster have been one charge—sharing a pastor—for the past 51 years. In 2011, they became part of the four-point Charge of Danbury Grace Siren Lewis UMC currently served by Pastor Eddie Crise and Associate Pastor Thomas Cook.
There have been changes and challenges through the years: In the 60s the building was enlarged by half to accommodate a growing Sunday School and other activities—two classrooms, an overflow “family room” off the sanctuary, indoor restrooms and a large fellowship hall were dedicated in 1968. Since then, many children have moved on, and needs of Danbury UMC are now related to accessibility. A main floor classroom was recently converted to a handicap-accessible rest room and a kitchenette for serving small groups. The family room, spruced up, is now “The Upper Room” for Bible Study, coffee fellowship, meetings and a monthly community foot clinic but easily converted to extra seating as needed for worship. The congregation points to “plenty of Sunday School space downstairs” for when change comes—again.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God has provided and enabled this small congregation to be a servant in this area of Northwest Wisconsin. The anniversary celebrations expressed gratitude for the sacrifices and faith of many, known in full, by God alone. Pastor Crise’s benediction speaks to the future: “Continue to serve. Go now, falling more in love with God our Creator, Jesus our Redeemer, and The Holy Spirit, our Sustainer.” And the People say, “Amen.”
The church at 7520 Water Street in Danbury meets for Sunday worship at 8:45 a.m.