The ministry rings on
Church on Navajo reservation celebrates 100 years, revives history of bell
July 25, 2012
When it was founded in 1912, First Presbyterian Church of Leupp was the first church in its community, which is on a Navajo reservation in northern Arizona.
100 years later, the church will use part of its original structure when it celebrates this milestone anniversary.
The church’s first building had a bell tower, and the minister would ring the bell every Sunday to call people to worship.
“Many of our elderly folks still remember hearing the sound of the bell and how it brought them to church on horseback, walking and riding on their wagons. There were no vehicles then,” said Annabelle Smallcanyon, the church’s clerk of session.
In 1994, the church moved to a new location on higher ground to avoid flooding. The new church building didn’t have a bell tower, so the bell stayed behind at the old site.
Now, the men of the church are constructing a monument in front of the current building in which to house the bell. A plaque commemorating the centennial will read, “100 years of God’s Faithfulness 1912-2012.”
“Growing up in this church through childhood, I heard the bell every Sunday,” Smallcanyon said. “It rang across the community and brought many lost souls to Christ. To hear it again means a lot, and remembering those saints of our church who step forward to serve God in this church brings much memory.”
Now, as Leupp Presbyterian Church prepares to celebrate its 100 year anniversary on the grounds of its new church building, the old bell will once again greet the community as it comes to worship.
The church will celebrate its 100th anniversary during its annual Camp Meeting Aug. 1-5. One of the planned events is a run/walk and trail ride from the old church building to a worship service at the new building. The event is intended to honor those early trips to worship.
The church will also display a history wall featuring photos from the church’s mission work in Jamaica and Scotland as well as Leupp’s time as a Japanese isolation camp in 1942.
Leupp played another big role in American history during World War II.
Phillip Johnston — son of the church’s minister — was raised among the Navajo people. He persuaded the major general of the U.S. Marine Corps to use the Navajo language as a code during the war. The Navajo Code Talkers program, established in 1942, eventually helped win the war against the Japanese. George Willie, still a member of Leupp Presbyterian Church, was one of the Navajo Code Talkers.
“You can see the many blessings we have received from God and how His grace has extended these many years,” Smallcanyon said.
Today, First Presbyterian Church of Leupp has 68 members, and along with young adults, children and community members, attendance on Sundays reaches 100 people. Sunday worship musical offerings rotate among an adult choir, Sin Ilii Nii Singers (a quartet), a youth praise/worship group and children’s choir.
Toni Montgomery is an award-winning freelance writer in Statesville, NC, where she is also secretary for First Presbyterian Church.