Neapolis Church Of Christ Marks 150th Anniversary

Neapolis Church of Christ pastor Ron Shellhammer, his wife Karen and longtime members Mary and Rick Baldwin are preparing for the 150th anniversary of the church. A celebration is planned for Sunday, June 9 at 9:30 a.m. at 8221 Main St. in Neapolis. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — When Rev. O.J. Britton arrived in Neapolis, Ohio in 1874, he described the area as having productive soil, easy access to Toledo and railroad facilities – the perfect combination to grow a Christian colony. The town was just a year old and didn’t have a church, but that was soon to change.

For two weeks, Britton held religious services in private homes, and with 17 members, the Neapolis Christian Church was organized on June 13, 1874. A year later, one of the town’s founding brothers, Thomas Meredith, donated land, and pledges were collected to build a church, which was renamed Neapolis Church of Christ. 

On Sunday, June 9 at 9:30 a.m., the church will welcome the community and past and present members for a 150th anniversary celebration that will include a message from former pastor Steve Idle, a potluck lunch and a silent auction to raise funds for a new outdoor sign.

Even as the area has grown, Neapolis Church of Christ continues to be known for its friendly and loving atmosphere, said pastor Ron Shellhammer.

“This is home. It has that small-town feel,” he said. “We don’t always agree, but we still get along. We have fun at the service and activities. The more I’m here, the more this place grows on me. I feel like I’ve been here forever.”

Lifelong members Rick and Mary Baldwin expect to hear stories from others who have grown up in the church, including 93-year-olds Bonnie Hartman and Donna Tipplady, who were baptized on the same day in 1944. The Baldwins, whose parents and grandparents belonged to the church, describe groups like the Kitchen Katies, a traveling comedy troupe and a children’s choir that performed skits throughout the area. 

“The town and the church are intertwined,” Mary said, noting that the building has been the location of public meetings, school plays, banquets, graduations and other social events throughout the years.

She jokes that one thing has changed: the dress code. It’s much more casual now.

“My mom would roll over in her grave,” Mary laughed, noting that her mom expected the family to dress in their Sunday best.

Mary was a child when she met the church’s first full-time pastor, 91-year-old Bob Yawberg, who hopes to attend the anniversary events and bring his book, Saying Yes, A Pastor’s Journal.

Yawberg was raised on a farm at the corner of Neowash and Jeffers roads, where his great-grandfather settled in 1850. He was a 20-year-old junior at Bowling Green State University, planning to go into the ministry, when his cousin, an elder for the church, called.

“He wondered if I would preach a week or two,” Yawberg recalled.

He stayed 10 years. During that time, he married his high school sweetheart, Marilyn, graduated from BGSU and completed his studies at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis while serving as the church’s full-time pastor.

“I loved the people. It was a small town where you knew everyone. I was chaplain for the volunteer fire department, too,” he said.

Through annual revival meetings and membership campaigns, the church grew and added a parsonage in 1955, where the Yawbergs lived and held Sunday School classes in the home and garage.

By the time Steve Idle joined as pastor in 1978, the “new” church and education wing were five years old. As a recent seminary graduate, Neapolis Church of Christ was Idle’s first ministry. Since he was young and single, Idle had many offers from church members to come to dinner to meet their granddaughters.

“I thought it was a chance to get a free meal somewhere – I didn’t cook,” he laughed.

When Velma Baldwin asked him to meet her granddaughter, Jodi, who was visiting from Texas, he fell in love. Yawberg married the two in the church on August 11, 1979. 

“The church took a young pastor with no experience and gave me the opportunity to find myself a little bit,” he said. “There was a real emphasis on loving God and loving people. We really stressed what it was to love God. We exhibited that in how we loved people.”

During his nearly six years with the church, Idle not only delivered sermons and visited the sick and homebound, but he officiated weddings, baptisms and funerals. He recalled how the church embraced a mother whose 6-year-old daughter was killed in an auto accident.

“I watched that church stand up for her. They loved those families whether they came to our church or not,” he said.

Like Yawberg, Idle has visited the church over the years, and finds that he still feels at home.

“I have a lot of great memories, many set around the people there,” he said. “It’s on the rebound right now. Ron seems to be doing a great job. You can tell there’s a lot of love and affection for his family.”

Shellhammer trained with the Pentecostal Church of God and the Church of God and has been a part-time associate pastor with four small churches over the past 25 years, during which time he also served as a full-time Whitehouse police officer. He now works part time for the department, but said he was praying that he could someday find a permanent position at a church. That’s when Rick Baldwin walked into the police station with a proposition.

“The current pastor was leaving, and they were looking for someone,” he said. So, a year ago he accepted, and recently moved to Neapolis with his wife, Karen, to be closer to the church.

“There’s a lot of tradition here,” he said. “We’re starting to grow and see people coming back. That’s encouraging and uplifting to the congregation. This place is very special.”

In addition to the 150th anniversary celebration, the church will host Vacation Bible School from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. June 10-14 and an outdoor service in July.

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