Author recalls last year’s Christmas service at historic Lenora church
By Nancy OvercottMonday, December 17, 2001
Heat from the five-foot tall wood stove stings our faces and makes us shed jackets and sweaters. We arrived at the last minute and the only remaining places to sit are next to the stove. I didn't expect to see such a crowd in the little Lenora United Methodist Church, the oldest church in Fillmore County.
It is December 23, 2000, a clear cold evening, 10 degrees below zero. Rev. Mark Woodward, pastor of Faith United Methodist Church of Eyota, Minnesota, has opened the pioneer church in Lenora, five miles north of Canton, for a Christmas service. Rev. Woodward serves this church out of his interest in history, evangelism and Christian outreach.
The pioneer church was built in 1856 and rebuilt in 1865 after the Civil War. It is made of limestone rock and is approximately 24 feet wide by 30 feet long. Its first pastor was circuit rider Rev. John Dyer who moved to the Lenora area in 1856 with his three sons and a daughter. He raised money to build the church by selling small parcels of his own 40 acres, thus creating the town of Lenora.
Lenora's first post office opened in 1856 in Elija Austin's home with Charles B. Milford postmaster. It later moved to the general store where it remained until closing for good in 1905. Dyer's son Joshua opened the first store. The town also had a doctor and a hotel.
The first religious camp meeting in the area took place on June 3, 1856 before the church was built. The meeting drew between 1,500 and 2,000 people and lasted more than a week. Preachers at the meeting included Elder Norris Hobart, Reverends Dyer and Benjamin Crist and Brothers Willford, Bissel, Johnson and Phelps. During the meeting, all seven men preached at the same time from different crudely erected pulpits.
After serving in Lenora, Rev. Dyer served in Caledonia, Austin and Wabasha and eventually moved to Colorado where he made a name for himself as a pioneer preacher. Many preachers followed Rev. Dyer, some of them circuit riders who traveled from community to community never staying long in one place. When the railroad passed it by, Lenora began to decline and by the late 1920's, the church no longer had an active congregation. The Lenora Cemetery Association and the Newburg United Methodist Church cared for the pioneer church over the years and kept it from falling into total disrep .....[Read the Rest]