Millersburg Christian Church celebrates rich history

Wednesday, August 20, 2008 | 3:32 p.m. CDT

MILLERSBURG - Tucked away in the rural outskirts of Callaway County is Millersburg Christian Church.

With approximately 100 active members, the church is celebrating its 150-year anniversary and still focusing on the future.

Jeff Moran, a church member for 25 years and chair of the upcoming sesquicentennial celebrations, said this anniversary is a platform for building on the future.

"We are doing good work, and we will continue to do so for the next 150 years," Moran said.

In the past 15 years, the congregation volunteered its services at Loaves and Fishes and the Fulton Soup Kitchen, as well as participating in Crop Walk and the Festival of Sharing.

In an effort to celebrate its foundations, however, Millersburg Christian Church asked Ralph Rowlett, MU professor of anthropology, to locate the original church structure, built in 1815 and now buried within the Missouri terrain.

Although the original church was "not a European cathedral," as Moran said, the discoveries that were made told the story of surprisingly sophisticated frontiersmen.

In 1997, when he was asked to find the original Millersburg Church, Rowlett thought the dig would be a good learning opportunity for his students, so he agreed to take on the project.

Abandoned in 1858, the original building was covered by a slight accumulation of top soil, Rowlett said.

The number of artifacts discovered was relatively limited, however, because the early church members were liberal Protestants who were more interested in discussing morals and ethics than performing rituals, Rowlett said. Most of the remnants were shards of glass and flattened bullets.

Although he cannot be sure, Rowlett surmises that the bullets and shards of glass are remnants of the Battle of Millersburg, an early and intense Civil War battle.

"The glass was blown out. Some pieces were driven down vertically into the ground," Rowlett said.

It could be that someone sought refuge there, Rowlett said. Probably members of the Miller family, who settled in Millersburg and established the church in the early 19th century, according to the church's Web site,

Despite his guesses, Rowlett is "still mystified" by what looks like the remains of an explosion, or possibly a tornado. The Civil War battle hypothesis would explain the discovery of flattened bullets, however.

In addition to the glass and bullets, Rowlett's team found pieces of blue willow pottery. At first, Rowlett was baffled by the discovery that is until he made an inexplicable discover half way around the world.

While on another dig in Romania, Rowlett visited a monastic museum, and upon walking in the door was shocked to see a blue willow plate displayed in a place of prominence. Eventually, Rowlett discovered that blue willow pottery, an English invention from the late 18th century, was considered so beautiful that churches around the globe would serve communion on these plates.

"Western settlers were not as rustic as people like to think; they were more refined," Rowlett said.

Broken glass and pottery shards are only the beginning of the storied tale of good works and fellowship at Millersburg Christian Church. To hear more about the Millersburg archeological dig, the church will host a discussion with Rowlett at 4 p.m. on Saturday . Call 573-642-2939 for more information.


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