Pratt County's oldest church will celebrate its 135th birthday on Oct. 20, beginning at 9 a.m. and lasting as long as people want to visit after a catered fellowship meal. The city of Iuka was platted in 1877, and within a year a Methodist Church was holding services.
In April of 1877, the Rev. R.T. Peak and Judge Robert Anderson left Broomfield, Iowa, in search of a country that was less crowded. They found what they liked in Pratt County and returned to Iowa to organize a wagon train west. The men came first, and the women came later by railroad to Ellsworth and by wagon to the settlement.
The Iuka Charge was first mentioned in the minutes of the Methodist South Kansas Conference in 1878, according to church history.
Baptists and Presbyterians also organized congregations, but none of the three were wealthy enough to erect their own church or Sunday School building. Under the leadership of Presbyterian Rev. Andrew Axline, a Union Building was erected for the use of all and for public meetings.
The Methodists withdrew from the Union Church in 1881, obtained a charter, and began construction of their own building. To pay the $2,000 cost, church members loaded horse-drawn wagons with buffalo bones and drove to Hutchinson, where the bones were sold to buy lumber.
A tornado damaged the church before the roof was in place, and the contractor refused to finish it, until Aaron Briggs and J.R. Gray supplied the money and materials to repair and finish the building in 1882. Membership was 135 and Guy Hamilton was the first pastor.
The town of Iuka and the first church were west of what is now U.S. 281. When the Missouri Pacific railroad completed its line as far as Iuka, the town moved east.
"People picked up their stuff and moved it here," said Marjorie Buck, a native Iukan and lifetime member of the church. "Unfortunately, when Pratt started, people picked up their stuff and moved to Pratt."
The little town that had dreams of being the county seat lost population soon after it began. Its school consolidated with Pratt half a century ago. Other churches closed. Iuka Methodist — now Iuka United Methodist Church — remains as a viable part of the community.
Buck estimated weekly attendance at 25 to 35; membership is greater, but some are not able to attend. It has a small but strong unit of United Methodist Women. Sunday School for adults is held every Sunday, and for children when enough are present to warrant it. The church sent six young people to church camp during the summer. The Rev. Fred Pinkerton serves as pastor.
Pratt Free Methodist Pastor Terry Stafford lives across the street, and preaches the sermon when Rev. Pinkerton cannot. Early services in Iuka and a later time at his own church make that possible.
"I think it fills a spiritual need," Buck said. "It helps bind the community. People who live in Iuka are proud to live in Iuka."
There are people who drive from Iuka to Pratt to go to church, because no one asks them to do anything. They just want to hear a sermon, she said. There are also people who drive from Pratt to Iuka, because they like feeling like part of a church family.
Several small churches in the area have had some gains in membership, Buck said.
"Small churches fill a need," she noted, adding that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that church should be three or four families meeting in a home.
Iuka United Methodist is a little bigger than that, and they meet in a brick church built in two stages. The education building and basement was built in 1962. The sanctuary and west rooms were built in 1969, and the parsonage next door was constructed in 1975.