“From the Corner of St. Johns and Emerson to Barber Street: 100 Years of the Ithaca Church of God, 1918-2018” Part IV: A Young and Vibrant Leader, a Growing and Active Church, 1950-1970

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Above: Earl and Charlotte Van Sipe pastored the church for almost exactly twenty years from 1950-1970; a 1950s shot of the old church; a 1964 shot of the new Church of God on Barber Street; in 1970 the Board of Trustees celebrated a mortgage burning ceremony – the new church was paid off.

        As 1950 began, Ithaca, like many other towns across America, had seen great changes in society and in the world. The Second World War ended in 1945 and the church had many men and women in its midst who had faithfully served their country. In Ithaca, a terrible polio epidemic had started in mid-1949 which terrified the community because of the number of people who were stricken in the wake of this terrible disease. Nothing had gripped Gratiot County on this scale since the Flu Epidemic of 1918-1919. By the summer of 1950, another conflict in Korea threatened the United States with another world war. When would peace and stability find come? In some ways, the Ithaca Church of God needed a shepherd who would turn out to be a long-term pastor, and they found one in a young Earl Van Sipe.

         Earl Van Sipe was 25 years old. He had pastored the Church of God in Petoskey for two years, was married to his wife, Charlotte, and had a nine-month-old daughter, Judy.  He and his wife would also be the first pastors to have a child in Ithaca with the birth of their son, Rodney.  Van Sipe was originally from Alpena and he had spent 2 ½ years in the United States Maritime Service during World War II. Both he and his wife were Anderson College graduates and it was there that Earl won letters in several sports and he coached the debate team. What many did not know was that he had turned down signing with the Cincinnati Reds baseball team in order to follow his calling as a pastor. Van Sipe had a knack with people and during his twenty years in Ithaca he became well known to many in the county, whether he was an auctioneer for a charitable cause, heading the county ministerial association, being a high school sports official, a leader of the Gratiot County Civil Defense Program, or serving as chaplain for the county sheriff’s department.

         As the church moved into the 1950s it averaged 90 people a Sunday and continued its ministry within the community. Holding annual or seasonal revivals were a signature of the church and notable evangelists came from across the Church of God to Ithaca to hold meetings.  In 1952, a  special dedication service was held for the purchase and installation of new pews, which cost $2485.00. It was one of many steps in the 1950s that the church took to deal with its growth. In early 1957, the church undertook a drive to raise $30,000 to add a new educational unit for new classrooms, fellowship hall and pastor’s office.  Attendance was now reaching an average of 160 people each week.

         Still, there seemed to be more for the Ithaca Church of God. In the midst of the 1957 drive a new vision was presented to do something better:  build a new, modern church and then relocate.  Parishioners were asked to think bigger and to commit deeply to the idea of building this new church. As leaders looked for a   place to build this church, one day Pastor Van Sipe and trustee Ed Papendick ventured several blocks northeast of the church to what would eventually be called Barber Street. At the time the area was largely corn fields and there was yet to be a subdivision or a high school nearby. The church decided to enter into a mortgage for $45,000 and construction of a new church started in July 1963. In late December, the congregation moved to the church on Barber Street and another church, the Ithaca Free Methodist, purchased the old Church of God properties. Coincidentally, the two churches moved on the same day. Services at Barber Street were held in the completed sanctuary even though the rest of the church was not completed until April 1964. On Sunday, June 14, 1964, the new church was officially dedicated. The new church had a larger sanctuary which was fully carpeted,  had new pews, modern acoustics, a new fellowship area with new classrooms. The property also offered the public something that the older church never had: more than enough parking!  The congregation also took another step and purchased the house across the road which became the new parsonage. Still, many wondered, “How will we pay for this?”

         As the 1960s went on, the church grew, many well-known speakers, evangelists, and singers visited the church and the mortgage was soon paid off.  In late April 1970, the church held a mortgage burning ceremony and the church celebrated having paid off this new church. It was a time that celebrated that God was good and that his people were faithful to their commitment to having a new church.

        Within a few months, the church began a new stage when Earl Van Sipe announced his resignation to accept a call to become part of the pastoral staff at Pennway Church of God in Lansing. The Van Sipes had grown with the church and the community for almost exactly 20 years. In July, the church entered the next decade of its history with another young pastor and his family.

Copyright 2018 James M Goodspeed

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