Rust currently has a multi-cultural membership. But it had its nineteenth century beginning as the first African-American congregation in the city and county.
The town of Oberlin. was founded in 1833 with the Oberlin Collegiate Institute coming into existence a few months afterward. Oberlin was heavily involved in the Abolitionist Movement which sought to rid America of slavery. Moreover the town was an active participant in the Underground Railroad an effort to provide aid to escaped slaves. As a result of these factors, the town came to have a small black population. By 1859 black persons made up twenty percent of the local county population.
From the start a number of African-Americans attended the three churches in town,but most of them remained un-churched. The first public religious meetings among African-Americans were the large Sunday night gatherings than occurred in the 1850‘s. But the building where the meetings were held was lost to fire in 1860. An African-American divinity student started a house church among black residents around 1859. Next some Wesleyan Methodists [strong abolitionists] from outside town assumed sponsorship of this house church. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War,however,this group became dormant or may have even ceased to meet.
Following the war a very small Methodist body was re-organized after it had failed to stay viable from its start back in 1858. Most of the people from the 1859 group joined the new Methodist body. Significantly, around this time there were at least two house churches meeting in the black community. All of the local Methodist groups joined together into one biracial body in 1869; it was designated as First Methodist of Oberlin. A little later a two year revival ending in 1871 was then conducted among black residents. When the revival gained 55 new converts, the people decided to establish a separate African-American church. They wanted to follow the southern style of worship to which they were accustomed.
Although avowed abolitionists, most of the town fathers expressed disapproval of the new black church. They opposed the principle of an ethnic church in their midst. To them it contradicted the multiracial ethos of the town. So very few offered encouragement and support. Despite this the new black congregation continued to meet as a house church and managed to purchase a lot in 1872. Trustees were selected and an old house moved onto this lot in 1873. Second Methodist was taken as its name. The timing was perfect for the newly organized church to be connected to the Lexington Conference as it expanded from Kentucky into Ohio in 1873.
The Presiding Elder came to lay the cornerstone for their first church building in 1874. So they became a house church once again as the church was being erected. A small loan from the Methodist Church Expansion Society assisted them in obtaining building materials. This edifice was a rather roughly constructed one that was unfinished when worship services were commenced. in 1876. Since most of the people were new residents without local resources, raising the money to build a church was very difficult. The folks engaged in food fairs and other fund raising activities. The people were determined to have a church of their own among the churches of Oberlin.
The new church did not come into existence without problems and obstacles. The chimney and flu were poorly constructed such that winds would often cause the room to be filled with smoke. An old cook stove was used for heating the building for a number of years. Then there was a deep dispute regarding an election among the members which led to a schism in 1877. Half of the people withdrew and set up an African Methodist congregation a few blocks away. Due to these internal issues and small size, several years were required to place the church on a firm setting.. In 1882 the church was renamed in honor of Richard S. Rust, an eminent Methodist educator at that time. Rust had led the Church to found several black Methodist colleges in the South. Finally the church was dedicated in 1883 after all outstanding debt was discharged. The other churches in town and Cleveland joined in the dedication celebration which lasted for a week. At this point, many of those who had withdrawn returned to the Rust fold.
By the turn of the century, the first building had become decrepit and almost unusable for worship.The people began to devise plans for erecting a new edifice. A committee of local businessmen spear headed the fund raising effort. After an intense campaign, with the help of the Bishop and local business leaders, funds were secured and a new brick church was built in 1916.This building was designed by the notable architect Cass Gilbert who worked for Oberlin College at that time. As was the case with other churches he designed, he drafted the church plans pro bono or free of charge. The new edifice with stained glass windows on the corner of Groveland and Park Streets was dedicated in 1917. This is the building in current use by the congregation.
For African-Americans then Rust is a very historic church. Its founding members were people who had immigrated to have their freedom and opportunity. Three of the first trustees and the first Pastor were men who had served in the Union army during the Civil War. All of them had taken dramatic steps to establish their freedom. It represented their initial movement to self-determination and the management of their own affairs.
For most of our history, events occurred in an era when black and white churches belonged to separate Methodist Conferences. The Church was restructured in 1968 bringing uniformity to its connections. Resources were made equitable. At the same time ethnic identity was acknowledged as positive and valid. Moreover the nurturing spiritual climate of the Rust congregation has prompted several persons to join the ranks of the ministry., providing a sense of local pride. This whole legacy has become a vital resource in the life of the church. The church continues to garner strength from its heritage as it confronts today's world.
| Richard Rust