Rust United Methodist Church
128 Groveland Street
Oberlin, Ohio 44074

A Brief History
Grace Hammond, Elizabeth Harrison and Jennifer Ni
Oberlin College
Fall 2003

With Special Thanks to John Willis, Church Historian

Rust United Methodist Church emerged in 1872 out of a racial division at the Oberlin Methodist Episcopal Church. Prior to the split, Oberlin Methodists all gathered together in Colonial Hall at Oberlin College, on the site of the present Oberlin Conservatory of Music. This Methodist Episcopal Church was most likely organized by whites, who, after the creation of the Church invited local Black Methodists to worship with them. Later, both groups felt they could be self-supporting. One early history of Rust speculates: "The newly organized Lexington Annual Conference probably provided a strong influence in the thinking of the Oberlin Negro Methodists."[1] The white members continued to worship on the South Main Street site, while the Black members purchased property for a new church on South Water Street, now South Park Street. The deed for this property specifies "the first duly elected trustees" of what would become known as the Second Methodist Episcopal Church. According to the Rust United Methodist Church Centennial Celebration, 1872-1972, first trustees were: John Ramsey, James Houston, Perry Carter, Thomas H. Burnett, Frank Savo and William H. Brown.[2]

John Ramsey, a founder of Rust Church
Image courtesy of John Willis

A small frame building was soon moved onto the lot for worship. A long-time member of Rust who remembered this structure described a floor of wide boards with open cracks between them. The heating system was poor and a cook stove was used to heat the church while oil lamps were used for light. The first pastor to preside over services in this new location was Rev. Elizabeth Carr. The first minister to be appointed by the Methodist Episcopal Conference was probably Rev. J.C. Payne; Rev. Adam Nunon served the Church directly afterward. The church developed "into a significant spiritual influence on the community, and has flourished ever since. Mrs. Hattie Jones, who has been a member of Rust for long years, observed in December 2003, "that church would stand if it were but three people."[3]

At a date prior to May 1906, the church name was changed. The Second Methodist Episcopal Church became Rust Methodist Episcopal Church during the pastorate of Rev. W.H. Renfro. According to the Centennial History, the church was renamed "in honor of Dr. Richard S. Rust, one of the post-Civil War white leaders of the denomination." At the same time and during the same pastorate the church purchased "two adjacent parcels of land."[4]

On July 5, 1915, during the pastorate of Rev. Frank S. Delaney, members of Rust M.E. Church tore down the original building. To finance the construction of a new church, some members of the congregation mortgaged their homes, and $3,500 was borrowed from the Peoples Banking Company. The final cost of the construction was calculated at $11,000. During the construction of the new building, the congregation was given permission to use the Centennial Building at the corner of South Main and Edison Streets. On July 16, 1916, the congregation first assembled for worship in the new building. In 1923, the Church emerged from debt, and under the pastorate of Rev. Charles T. Parker, burned the mortgage. The ashes of the mortgage are still preserved in Rust Church to this day.

Image courtesy of John Willis

A succession of different ministers marked the next twenty years, 1923-1943, evidence of the rapid turnover that has long been seen as a problem for the congregation. "We could groom them, if only they could stay," says Mrs. Hattie Jones. Membership was essentially steady during these years, described my Mrs. Jones as the "heyday," with 123 members in 1936 and a reported 150-plus members in the 50s.[5]

The 1950s at Rust were marked by practical improvements for the building and the parsonage, including the repair of the stained glass window, the installation of a new heating plant, and the purchase of a Model 45 Baldwin Electric Organ. Rev. John C. Ferguson, who had come to Ruse from Werner Church in Cleveland, was then the pastor. He was responsible for many of the improvements at Rust during this period, as well as an explosion in Church activities. The traveling Gospel Chorus that had developed by this time sponsored the redecoration of the basement and the covering of the basement floor. The "musical needs" at Rust were "more than adequately fulfilledÉby the Gospel Chorus, the Senior Choir, the Ladies' Sextette [sic] and the Junior Choir" at this time.[6]

In May of 1958, Rev. Ferguson returned to Werner Church in Cleveland. His successor, Rev. T.R. Sumner, helped complete writing the history of the church that Ferguson had begun to compile. That volume became the Centennial History.

Rust has not undergone many significant changes to the building or the parish in the last 40 years. The pastorates have remained largely male, although two women have taken the pulpit. Although Rust is part of a white conference, no white ministers have assumed the pastorship. Debate in the late 1990s about this issue found the congregation opposed to the idea of a white minister. Ms. Rebecca Eastin believes that this decision may change soon, however, based on the positive response of the congregation for a current white minister at the Elyria church.[7]

In the last half-century female church members have excelled in their involvement at Rust. An official roster of the Church, included in the Centennial History, demonstrates that, in 1972, women filled sixteen of the twenty-one official church positions. A booklet produced by the church in 1987 states the "women's work [from the church] is not to be excelled by any other society in the Columbus district." The women hold administrative positions; organize dinners, fundraisers and Sunday School. Men in the church also "fulfill their work as leaders" but fewer participate.[8]

Rust Church emphasizes education. Not only does the Methodist denomination offer scholarships, but there are also scholarships available for Rust members through their conference. A point of pride for Rust is the large percentage of church members who have attended college. In the late sixties and early seventies, under Rev. Moses Williams, Rust offered the use of its basement to the local Head Start Program, which did not have enough space at its previous location for all its enrolled students.

At the present, Rust, like many churches, has a lagging membership. Most of the current members are elderly and they regret the loss of their younger members to other cities and denominations. Without this "new blood," change is not encouraged which makes it hard to attract newer, younger members. Ms. Eastin says that when the church members get together, there is a lot of "grandma talk."[9]

Rust has been an integral part of the Oberlin community since its founding. There is no doubt that the Church, with its rich history and dedicated congregation, will continue to make Oberlin history.


Two sources of history for Rust United Methodist Church are also available online at:  


[1] This history is quoted in "Rust United Methodist Church,", and "History of Rust United Methodist Church,"

[2] This volume, and other materials relevant to the History of Rust United Methodist Church, can be found in Rust United Methodist Church, Record Group 31, Oberlin College Archives. It is cited hereafter as Centennial History.

[3] Interview with Hattie Jones, December 2003, conducted by Grace Hammond.

[4] Centennial History, p. 28.

[5] Jones interview.

[6] Centennial History, p. 31.

[7] Interview with Rebecca Eastin, December 2003, conducted by Jennifer Ni and Elizabeth Harrison.

[8] Eastin interview.

[9] Eastin interview.