Calvary United Methodist Church
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
Accepting All with God's Unconditional Love
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Calvary Church History

Calvary Church History

Originally Written by Lorraine Little


The first religious service held in the lakes regions was at the Gardner Cabin just two months after the Spirit Lake Massacre in 1856.  A crowd of 12 or 20 men came, stacked their guns in the corner, and heard an inspiring sermon by Rev. Prescott who was a Methodist minister. No women lived in the settlement until the following year. Rev. Prescott lived in the Gardner cabin and held regular Methodist worship services during his years of living in the cabin. Dr. Prescott was given credit for asking the Methodist conference of 1859 to send preachers to the frontier settlement.

Rev. Samuel Pillsbury, a circuit riding preacher, came to Lake Okoboji in 1863.   He also lived in the Gardner Cabin and held Methodist services in the cabin and the school annex next to the cabin. In 1864, the first camp meeting in northwestern Iowa was held in a grove, at what is now known as Ft. Dodge Point.  Pillsbury Point was named after Rev. Pillsbury.

In March of 1925, the Lake Okoboji Community Church was organized and a large summer tabernacle was erected near the lake shore at the end of Carita Street.  This tabernacle was abandoned in 1927 when the members petitioned the Northwest Iowa Methodist Conference for a church in Arnolds Park.  This was done after a canvass was made of Arnolds Park and Okoboji, with 80 residents declaring themselves Methodist.

Rev. Edgar Hammerle was appointed pastor and under his supervision the present church was built.  The land was known as the Parker property and was purchased for $7000.  The house and several cottages were sold and together with $2100 given by the Community church, a building fund was started. Rev. Hammerle was an architect and builder as well as pastor and he put in long hours with the help of others to build the present structure.  A matching parsonage was built just south of the church building.  The church was dedicated in August of 1928, but the building was not completed until 1932.

In October of 1932, a special Sunday service was held in the Gardner log cabin in commemoration of the first religious service held by the Methodists in Arnolds Park. In May of 1992, the 135th Anniversary was also celebrated with a special service at the log cabin.

In September of 1947, the name of the church was changed from Episcopal Calvary Methodist Church to Calvary Methodist Church.  In 1970, the name was again changed to Calvary United Methodist Church. This was due to the merger of the EUB Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1964.

Charter members of the Calvary Church were: Arthur J. Marshall, Florence Marshall Gilchrist, Clara Graves, Clara Swarner, Evelyn Swarner, Muriel Swarner, Marjorie Swarner, Mrs. V.P. Miller, Emma Arp, Frank Elson, Maude Elston, Mrs. M.Goltry, Mrs. F.G. Gustafson, Olga Nielsen, Mary E. Miller, Dorothy Miller, William K. Taylor, Margaret Taylor, Lizzie Thompson, Emily Kellog, Minnie R. Allen, Hazel Christensen, William Christensen, C.B. Elston, Lena Elston, Margie Ego, Minnie Phillips, Minnie Hammerle, Carle Sherburne, and Edgar Hammerle.

In February of 1970, the District Superintendent proposed a new type of ministry in conjunction with the Arnolds Park church.  This ministry was to fit the needs of the times with an outreach approach in the community.  An ordained minister would be assigned to the church with added duties of serving the lakes area in the summer months. It was called the Iowa Great Lakes Ministry.  The minister and helpers would circulate throughout the area providing spiritual help to those in need.  In 1984, the Arnolds Park church became part of a two-point charge with Fostoria.  In 1989, this church was made a part of a three-point charge adding Excelsior United Methodist Church.  In 2002, Calvary United Methodist Church became a single charge once again.

The Calvary United Methodist Church in Arnolds Park has started several innovative programs. In 1991, a Boat Worship Service was held at Claire C. Wilson Park, where people would come by car or boat.  In 1992, the Worship Walk was another interesting program to tell the life of Christ from birth to resurrection.  Calvary United Methodist Church has a unique mission in the resort area serving the needs of visitors to the lakes during the summer months.  Its mission is to be known as a friendly church to one and all.



Calvary's Pastors: 1927 to Present

Edgar Hammerle 1927-37

R.J. Chipperfield 1937-39

Carl K. Hudson 1939-50

Prof. Ramires 1950-51

Vernon Sanderson 1951-52

Ivan Maxson 1952-57

Ray Walker 1957-62

Arthur B. Campney 1962-66

Charles Gilbert 1966-70

Gordon Watson 1970-73

Merlin Mathers 1973-76

Darrel Draper 1976-79

Heber Miller 1979-83

Leslie Calhoun 1983-84

John Poe 1984-88

Jose Dancel 1988-89

Scott Holmes 1989-00 

R. D. Streeter 2000-2005

Dr. Sarah Rohret 2005-2018

Rev. Chris St. Clair 2018 - present