HALLSVILLE — Red Top Christian Church is celebrating 200 years of ministry with special events and programs leading up to its founding anniversary in October.
Red Top, founded in a log cabin as the Liberty Church, has ministered to the Hallsville community since 1822. Many church members have attended since they were young.
“I have been a member (of) Red Top since I was baptized here,” said Charlotte Sievert-Burkett, a deacon and Sunday school teacher who is involved in outreach ministry at Red Top. His family has been part of the church for generations.
“I really like this church. I’ve been here my whole life,” Siervert-Burkett said. “I would be the sixth generation.”
“I love being a Sunday school teacher (and) watching the kids grow up. It’s just a good church: very friendly, very family-oriented.
Her father, Charles Sievert, has been a member of the church since 1954.
“What do I like the most? Well, mainly people,” Charles Sievert said. ” They’re nice. They know what they’re talking about when it comes to the Bible.
A notable feature on the church grounds is the cemetery, which was founded the same year as the church. It serves as a resting place not only for church members, but also for other residents of the area.
“Almost everyone in my family – my parents, my grandparents, my in-laws and their parents – were all buried here in this church,” Sievert noted. “And me too.”
The power of brotherhood
The church stands on the site of the original log cabin, which was organized as a Church of Christ denomination by the Township of Rocky Fork. This hut was destroyed in a fire in 1835.
According to parish records, a second clapboard building was constructed. There were two bedrooms, most likely one for women and one for men, and a common fireplace between them. Preachers nicknamed the church Red Top because of the building’s red gables.
Gerald Echelmeyer, the church pianist, has strong feelings about fellowship in the church.
“There is a very good camaraderie and friendship between people. (People) are always very kind, loving,” Echelmeyer said.
Echelmeyer played piano in church for seven years but joined as a member two years ago.
“Red Top has a powerful prayer group,” Echelmeyer said. “If you ask for prayers, it’s amazing. I’ve done it many times, for myself and for other people. And it’s absolutely, absolutely amazing. ”
“Rediscovering our roots”
The second structure was collapsing when a new shrine was built in 1867 – a frame building that could seat 440 people, with a tin roof painted red. Dedicating the new shrine the following year, the church was officially renamed Red Top Christian Church. This shrine is still in use today.
Red Top membership has been passed down through generations of families, helping to carry on the church’s legacy for 200 years.
“The 200th anniversary is synonymous with continuity,” said Charlotte Sievert-Burkett. “That we will last, you know, we are forever.”
“I love the story,” said Tim Reinbott, an elder, a Sunday School teacher and Red Top member since 1994. “I love that our church is on the frontier; you think about 200 years ago this church was the frontier.
The church claims to be the first in Boone County, and members say several denominations have used the original cabin for services.
“I think what really excites me about this (anniversary celebration is) that we will kind of rediscover our roots, where we come from,” Reinbott added.
Church members celebrated throughout the year with a bicentennial moment at services on the second Sunday of each month. These included a play put on by church members about the history of the church and an old fashioned ice cream party.
A religious evolution
Permanent Supply Minister Sheila Cali, 65, started dating Red Top when she was 16.
The anniversary “tells me that we’re here for the long haul. It’s about pride…but I think it has a lot to do with the stability of the community, the fact that we’ve been here a long time,” she said.
Cali also notes that she’s been a part of Red Top history, discussing how the church has changed over the past few decades in regards to the role of women.
“There have been a lot of differences since I was 16, because when I was 16 they didn’t have female ministers,” she recalls. “The first wife…was with a male and female couple. And after a while, you know, they started calling only women.
Today, members look in awe at how the church survived a previous crisis. In 1914, disagreements over fundamental aspects of the church led to a division in the congregation.
According to church history, some members believed that the church could only act on what was said in the Bible, while others believed that what was not explicitly said was left to the congregation to decide. let her deal with it as she saw fit.
When the two groups could not get along, those who followed a strict interpretation of the Bible left the congregation and started their own church, the Church of Christ, which survives today just around the corner from Red Top.
Judy McClellan, who has attended Red Top for 40 years, is proud of her church’s success.
“I think (that), for one thing, it’s very impressive that this church has been able to withstand so much over the past 200 years,” McClellan said. “A lot of places couldn’t do it. We have many churches here that are closed.
Resilience over the years
At the height of the pandemic, Red Top lost the majority of interactions with members when programs like Sunday School and the Choir were discontinued. Red Top members hope the bicentennial celebration will bring families back and allow them to restart their programs.
For Sherri Briedwell, Chair of the Anniversary Committee, the 200th means something different.
“Here in this place 200 years ago there was nothing but woods,” Briedwell said. “People would gather here and always do the same things. They still took communion in the same place as about 150 years ago, in this same building. It’s just that sense of the story.
For the 200th anniversary celebration on October 2, Red Top members plan to hold their biggest celebration yet – special services, dinner and a visit from the general minister of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.
“We started planning for this about three years ago,” Briedwell said.
“For our little country church to survive for 200 years is absolutely incredible,” said Charles Sievert. “It’s a wonderful church we went to.”