Friends (Quakers) were the first white settlers in Randolph County. Friends were also the first settlers in the Bear Creek neighborhood. Members of the Addington Family, a Quaker family with roots going back to early English and Pennsylvania Quakers, began arriving along Bear Creek in the early 1830s. Friends worship was held in the neighborhood as early as 1837, though regular services did not begin until 1866, under the direction of Friends from other nearby meetings. Services were held in homes and schoolhouses until the Olive Branch Christian Church was constructed in 1873. In 1874 the Friends in the neighborhood were officially organized as “Olive Branch Preparative Meeting” under Poplar Run Monthly Meeting of Friends, including nearly sixty charter members. At least twenty charter members were members of the extended Addington Family. Another charter member, Eli Hiatt, Senior, was a widely-known Quaker who had been a noted stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. Another charter member, Nathan Hunt Williams, was the son of Daniel Williams, who was himself one of the best known Quaker ministers in Indiana in his day.
In 1883 the present site was secured by Benjamin Addington, and a frame meetinghouse was constructed. It was dedicated in early 1884 by Jehu Jessup, a minister from Wayne County, Indiana, and the name of the church was changed to “Bear Creek.” The meetinghouse was enlarged in 1905 and rededicated on November 26 by Albert J. Brown, President of Wilmington College. The meetinghouse was moved over a new basement in 1946-47, and an educational annex was added in 1959. In 1975 a new brick addition was completed, and a large fellowship hall was completed in 2001.
In the earliest years, pastoral and evangelistic support came from traveling ministers. The earliest pastors served intermittently. One of the first, a Quaker elder named Elijah Johnson, was a freed slave. In 1898 Fred Smith became the first regularly-serving, regularly-compensated pastor, serving Farmland, Parker, and Bear Creek Friends Churches. Twenty-six pastors have served in the years since, some serving more than one time.
At least ten persons associated with Bear Creek have entered the pastoral ministry. The most notable were brothers George E. Addington and Luther E. Addington, and several members of the Huffman Family, including our long-time pastor, Vernon Huffman.
Bear Creek Preparative Meeting was set off with Farmland Monthly Meeting in 1882. Schuyler C. Williams, a member of Bear Creek, served as clerk of Farmland Monthly Meeting for over thirty years, until 1938, when Bear Creek Monthly Meeting was set off, with him as clerk. Bear Creek has always been associated with Indiana Yearly Meeting of Friends. A number of Bear Creek's members have been active in yearly meeting affairs, including several who have served on the Executive Committee of Indiana Yearly Meeting. Bear Creek is currently one of the largest rural Friends churches in Indiana.
Today, Bear Creek is known as a vibrant, growing church with a comprehensive span of ages and a commitment to share the Gospel with our community.
Eli Hiatt, Sr. (1801-1880)
A birthright Friend, he came to Indiana from Ohio in 1826. A stationmaster on the Underground Railroad, he was an original trustee of the famed Union Literary Institute in 1845. He was a charter member of Olive Branch Preparative Meeting in 1874.
Nathan Hunt Williams (1820-1887)
A birthright Friend, he came to Indiana from Pennsylvania in 1833. He settled in Randolph County in 1853 and rejoined Friends in 1874. He signed the request for the establishment of Olive Branch Meeting in 1874.
Benjamin Addington (1824-1906)
A birthright Friend, he was born in Wayne County and came to Randolph County in 1834. He secured the site of the present meetinghouse in 1883. He served as an overseer, an elder, and a trustee in Farmland Monthly Meeting.
Luther L. Williams (1846-1917)
A son of Nathan H. Williams, he was Bear Creek's leading member for a generation, serving as clerk and sitting at the head of the meeting until his death. He also served as Randolph County Commissioner.
Schuyler Colfax Williams (1867-1943)
A son of Luther L. Williams, he was Bear Creek's leading member in his day, serving for over forty years as clerk of the monthly meeting. He served on the Permanent Board of Indiana Yearly Meeting and for seventeen years as clerk of Winchester Quarterly Meeting Ministry and Counsel.
Important Early Members of Bear Creek Friends Church
Stained Glass Windows of Bear Creek Friends
Eight stained glass windows and a stained glass transom were installed in 1950. The artist is not known, but the glass is Kokomo Opalescent Glass. Over the years, some of the windows have been moved. Three were reinstalled in the new addition in 2001. So far as is known, these are the only memorial windows in a Friends Church in Randolph County, Indiana.
If you would like to know more about the histroy of Friends at Bear Creek or in Randolph County generally, send an e-mail to our historian.