HFC Nazarene celebrates century mark in May

Rev. Bobby Kemp, the lead pastor of Huntington First Church of the Nazarene, stands in the church’s new Legacy Room, which tells the story of the church’s history through pictures, mementos and artifacts. The room was put together in honor of the church’s 100th anniversary, which was celebrated on May 19.
Rev. Bobby Kemp, the lead pastor of Huntington First Church of the Nazarene, stands in the church’s new Legacy Room, which tells the story of the church’s history through pictures, mementos and artifacts. The room was put together in honor of the church’s 100th anniversary, which was celebrated on May 19. Photo by Steve Clark.

Huntington First Church of the Nazarene celebrated its 100th anniversary in May.

While it was a time to reflect on the church’s century in operation, it was also a time to look forward and envision the church’s future.

A willingness to do that isn’t unique to the church as it presently stands; it’s something its leadership and congregation have been doing since its founding. And that embrace of forward thinking is one of the biggest reasons why the church has reached such a big milestone.

The church is presently located at 1555 Flaxmill Rd., Huntington, with Rev. Bobby Kemp serving as lead pastor, a role he’s held since 2016.

The church was founded May 19, 1919, as a result of interest in the Church of the Nazarene that had been generated through Naza-rene revivals held in the Huntington area since 1910.

“There was enough of a momentum,” says Kemp, to justify founding a physical church.

To that end, members of an organizational group for the church purchased a parsonage and established a salary for a pastor.

“They had designated a salary of $1,400 for the pastor – they paid a lot back then, too,” says Kemp with a grin.

Led by Rev. Clyde Green, the church first met in a room at the Huntington County Courthouse. By 1921, land had been purchased for the church’s first location, at the corner of Etna Avenue and Henry Street. Construction of the church was completed in 1924.

While the church has been out of that building for over 30 years now, Kemp says signs of the church’s occupancy remain.

“On the front of the building, there’s the stained glass and it just says “Nazarene Church” in the stained glass,” he observes. “And the corner stone is still there, whenever they dedicated that building.”

One of the biggest developments to occur during the church’s time in its first location was the creation of a church music group, dubbed the “Nazarene Band” by founder Glenn Pasko.

“It was a brass band, full-orchestra kind of band,” says Kemp. “Pretty cutting edge whenever it rolled out.”

Following the formation of the band in 1931, it performed at a wide variety of venues and events for the next 80 years. The band made appearances at Huntington Heritage Days and the Huntington County 4-H Fair and also played at the county courthouse when Vice President George H.W. Bush announced that Sen. Dan Quayle would be his running mate in the 1988 presidential election.

Another big development occurred in 1959 when the church sent Rev. Norman Zurcher and Carol Zurcher to serve as missionaries on the church’s behalf in South Africa.

“That was a big, bold step at that point, to send this young family across the ocean to a foreign land,” says Kemp.

The Zurchers served as missionaries for 37 years. The church’s current missionary is Rev. Carol Rittenhouse, who is based in Costa Rica.

By 1983, the church had outgrown its location. And because of where it was located, expansion was not an option.

“You’re landlocked,” states Kemp. “You’re in a neighborhood down there.”

So, with the church’s future in mind, it was decided that a new church would be built on land purchased off of Flaxmill Road. Ground was broken in October 1983 and the first service in the new church was held in November 1986.

Unlike at the church’s previous spot, the new location afforded it the ability to grow. That’s exactly what happened in 2005, when the church completed an addition that included a gym and upstairs space. Since then, the gym has hosted community gatherings and Red Cross blood drives and also served as an Election Day polling place.

“It’s opened us up to be able to do things for and in our community that we wouldn’t have been able to as we sat before 2005,” observes Kemp.
One of the biggest developments that’s occurred at the church’s second location is the starting of a preschool program in 2002. Created by Cindy Schenkel, the program, called Growing Place Preschool, started with an enrollment of 26. Today, the program serves 75 to 80 families, notes Kemp.

“It just continues to grow and flourish and there’s just a need for it,” he says.

The church also serves youth through its Kids Hope program, which is a partnership between it and Flint Springs Elementary School, in Huntington.

“We partner one adult with one at-risk kid that’s identified by the administration and teachers there and then our adult goes in one hour every week and mentors this kid,” explains Kemp.

“We want these kids to know that they’ve got someone in their corner,” adds Kemp, “that they’ve got someone that’s fighting for them and there to help them with things that maybe they don’t have the family support as they navigate.”

In the interests of helping adults navigate life, the church recently started a partnership with Friends Counseling. The partnership sees the Wabash-based counseling service dispatch counselors to the church, where they keep office hours three days a week.

“Now we’re able to provide faith-based mental health counseling for residents in Huntington without having to travel to Wabash,” says Kemp. “We’ve got some other counseling places in Huntington, but they’re just tapped, they’re maxed out.”

The church celebrated its 100th anniversary on Sunday, May 19. In the lead up to the celebration, Kemp says the church engaged in 100 days of prayer.

“Where we were thanking God for what he’s done in the past and asking for clarity and wisdom on what the future looks like,” he says. “Thankful for the past, looking to the future.”

Also, the day before the celebration, the church sent 130 volunteers out into Huntington to do community-service projects.

“Just giving back to the community and just saying thanks to the town that we’ve called home for 100 years,” says Kemp.

On the anniversary date, Mayor Brooks Fetters and State Rep. Dan Leonard both officially recognized the church’s century in operation with a mayoral proclamation and a state resolution, respectively.

Additionally, a picture of the congregation was taken. While Kemp and photographer Paul Siegfried had hoped to take the picture outside, the weather did not cooperate. So, they opted for an indoor shot.

“There was like 550 folks,” says Kemp, “and so we just crammed them into the seats.”

The anniversary celebration saw Kemp unveil a surprise to the congregation. While the church’s members had been aware that renovations were being carried out in the church’s banquet room, they were not privy to the extent of those changes, which included transforming part of it into a permanent exhibit that chronicles the church’s history.

“We took pieces of our history – mementos, artifacts, pictures – and we lined the walls,” says Kemp of the space, which was renamed the Legacy Room. “We kind of made a timeline of the history of the church.”

Also unveiled during the celebration was a new church logo and, for the first time ever, a smart-device application for the church. The app, titled “HNAZ,” a reference to the church’s nickname, contains the church’s calendar, plus forms, permission slips and more.

Kemp says the app should appeal to the church’s younger members, many of whom use smart devices, like iPhones, frequently.

“If you want to have young families and young people connected, you’re going to have to speak their language,” says Kemp. “We’re very intentional about that now.”

Moving forward, Kemp says one of the church’s biggest initiatives is its “All In For Huntington” campaign. The initiative, he notes, will encourage his congregation, and the community at large, to find ways to serve Huntington and promote it.

“We’ve benefitted from Mayor Fetters and his leadership and his desire to make Huntington a great place to live and call home and all those kinds of taglines,” explains Kemp. “This is just our way to continue to go along with that messaging and be more intentional about the place we call home being as good as it can be.”

Ultimately, Kemp believes the church has struck the right balance in its anniversary year between reflecting on its history while positioning itself to succeed in the years to come.

“Honoring the past, looking to the future,” he says. “Setting the course. We’re not done. If all we’re going to do is sit back and pat ourselves about the last 100, there’s no way that’s pleasing to what we’re supposed to be.

“So, we celebrate and we move forward.”