The most rural church in the Northwest District of The Wesleyan Church began as a tent.
Before World War I, no church building existed in the Medicine Rocks, Montana, area. The area’s schoolhouse located in the town of Baker is where Sunday services and Sunday school were held.
In July of 1917, Rev. J. C. and Mrs. McGovern (parents of George McGovern, former South Dakota senator) set up a tent in the “Rocks” for a revival meeting. It was during the revival services in Baker that plans were made to construct a church there.
Construction supplies were purchased and hauled by horse teams, a two-day round trip. The sanctuary for Medicine Rocks Wesleyan Church (MRWC) was completed the next year.
The building was dedicated in the summer of 1919, with 25 to 30 people enjoying a full day of three services and a picnic on the church grounds. In July of 2018, MRWC celebrated 100 years of existence with 250 people in attendance.
Rev. Jim Biswell has served as MRWC pastor for seven years. A bivocational pastor, Biswell is a licensed funeral director who works for the funeral home in Baker, a town of less than 2,000 residents. His wife, Peggy, serves as the MRWC worship arts director. A talened musician, she trains others in the church, including high school students, as they help lead worship.
Around 75 percent of the congregation is made up of young families, some of whom have gone to college and moved back home to raise their children on family ranches. Most of the jobs are centered around agriculture or oil which is reflected in the MRWC culture.
A Red Angus Association of America board member is among several successful ranchers who attend MRWC. These ranchers are pros at horseback riding, cattle herding and rodeo events. Their children learn and participate in these activities from an early age. Another gentleman who owns an oil watering and bi-products company is very active in the church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry.
“The church is blessed to have these businessmen, with their knowledge, to enhance the ministry of the church,” said Biswell, who is passionate about loving and serving people.
Biswell doesn’t accept the mentality of “being way out in the boonies,” as some may describe their location. He believes that, even though the church is sitting in the “middle of nowhere,” it is actually in the “middle of everywhere.”
People drive from several small towns (including Ekalaka and Plevna) to attend services. Some ranches are situated 45 minutes from the church and many commutes include dirt roads. But those factors don’t stop families from being involved at MRWC.
Every year, MRWC hosts a Christmas extravaganza for area families, which includes a meal and ventriloquist’s presentation of the Christmas story. Both church families and those in the community who don’t attend MRWC attend.
Teens are also involved in a dinner and Bible study that meet twice a month, which is led by two church members. Approximately 40 teens consistently attend the dinner.
“The church is the connecting point of two counties,” said Biswell. “It is the ‘church without walls’ with the purpose of going into the communities and winning the brokenhearted to Christ.”
Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita and ambassador for The Wesleyan Church, visited MRWC, where she spoke. She posted on her Facebook page: “Last Sunday, I had the privilege to be in Medicine Rocks, Montana. However, the services were held at the fairgrounds, and I had the honor to preach from a flatbed truck at the Carter County Fair. Loved it and the people were so warm and accepting. [The church is] 100 miles from the nearest Walmart and McDonalds and a very vibrant church — young families, well-trained musicians, brilliant business people in the cattle and oil industry. Pastors Jim and Peggy Biswell live across the road from the church and are deeply loved by the community.”
MRWC is yet another example of a Wesleyan church having a transforming presence “in every ZIP code” — no matter how big or small the population.