German-American roots

LOWELL-A church with an almost 200-year history sits on the edge of Highland Ridge Road near Lowell, with a small but close-knit congregation that has come a long way from its original roots as a German-American settlement.

The Highland Ridge Community Church in Muskingum Township has a congregation of anywhere from 30 to 50 people, and despite going through several name changes, has held onto its original country church setting.

Though small, the church prides itself on its traditional services every Sunday and its events held throughout the year, all while withstanding the test of time that started when a group of Germans emigrated after the French Revolution.

“The church developed from a group of people that left Germany after the first Democratic movement in the German lands,” said Kurt Ludwig, a local historian and specialist in German American heritage in the area. “There was a wave of Democratic agitation in 1832 after the French Revolution, and some people just gave up and wanted to leave.”

That was how Theodore Schreiner, a young man who was studying to enter the ministry, came to the U.S. in 1833 after German authorities told him he either had to move or be jailed.

The group, originally headed for St. Louis, Mo., stopped along the Ohio River because the land looked so similar to their German homeland. Because Schreiner had a command of the English language, they asked him to be their first clergymen in 1835.

“He was partially trained and so he adapted himself to be their pastor, where he remained until the early 1850s,” Ludwig said.

A frame church was built at the location in 1849 to replace the original log structure, and in 1913, English was introduced into regular services in addition to German.

In 1971, after going through almost 10 name changes, the church as it stands today was named the Highland Ridge Community Church.

Now, 178 years after the original log church was built, the congregation is led by Pastor Donald Hart, who came to the church in 1995.

“It’s just filled with people that would do about anything for you; they’re just good old-fashioned country people,”said Hart, who had previously served as a pastor at several other country churches before being approached to lead the church. “Our doors are open to anyone at any time.”

Regular Sunday services from 9 to 10 a.m. are held at Highland Ridge, including Sunday school, mid-week Bible study and several youth meetings held throughout the year to hold events, parties and activities.

A women’s group called the Willing Workers also organizes at the church to put on events and fundraisers.

“We would be classified as traditional in our services,” Hart said. “We’re always open to new ideas and new things, but we’re probably more country and traditional in how we do things.”

Kurt Shaw, the church’s treasurer, has been attending the church since 1972, and together with his wife plays a big role in church organization.

“It’s just a small country church, and we’re more like a family, instead of just numbers,” he said. “We have so many craftsmen in the church, and whenever we need something done, someone will step up.”

Shaw said a recent break-in left the church’s basement flooded, broken glass and stolen items, and like usual, the congregation was there to help.

“When you call people they are right there and ready to help,” he said.

Besides the congregation, Shaw said they are lucky to have Hart, who he described as always being at everyone’s beck and call whenever they need him.

“We used to live two miles from the church, and then moved and now we’re 15 miles away,” Shaw said. “People would ask if we would still come back, and I said ‘Of course, this is my home.'”

The church is looking ahead to its Easter services Sunday, where it will hold an Easter egg hunt afterward for children, and a yard sale to be held in May to raise some needed funds, included with the various dinners and fundraisers held throughout the year.

Its place among the German-American history of the area, Ludwig said, has partially helped keep it alive.

“The German-American history always shows up because that’s such a big part of the area, and people still have interest in it,” he said.