Rev. John O’Dell is observing his 50th year in the ministry next month.
The two church families he pastors, Haley Chapel United Methodist and Mt. Carmel United Methodist, have survived through the generations, and have grown or sometimes diminished in number over the years, but the church doors are still open and life pulsing within to worship and serve the Lord.
Haley Chapel honored him with a dinner Sunday, Sept. 26, and Mt. Carmel will celebrate its annual Homecoming on Oct. 9, with O’Dell being the speaker.
Meet the O’Dell as he shares his, and the Lord’s, story.
O’Dell said that in the days before he was a Christian, he worked at various jobs, including in a candy factory in Centralia and was in charge of shipping and receiving for Kas Potato Chips.
His wife had become ill and was in a coma.
“My wife had went into a coma for two or three days. I was alone at the hospital at night, and I picked up a Gideon Bible,” he said.
“I wasn’t a Christian at that point. I would read a little bit, then put it down and kind of meditate. That happened three different nights and the third night is when she began to respond some. They called the doctor in and he tried a different regiment of different medications and so forth, and things began to look up,” he said.
“A minister from the ministerial alliance had come in and called on us, and had prayer with us two or three mornings.
“Then he came in when she was alert. Of course, she didn’t know him, but she was awake and he said, ‘When you get to feeling better, I’d love for you to start coming to church.’
“She said, ‘We will be there.’
“It took a while to get her back on her feet, but we were there as soon as possible. That was in the late ’50s, and we accepted the Lord in 1959,” he said.
“The pastor began to get me involved working in the church, teaching Sunday school, serving on the administrative board and in different organizations in the church. Then, it was in 1960 that I received the call to the ministry,” O’Dell said.
“We were having a revival meeting. And I went about the third evening. The first night, I think, our pastor shared something about us with the evangelist.
“He came over and talked to me, and I said I would be back the next night. I didn’t want to go back, so I just dropped off the wife and children. The third night, I went. It was some weeks after that they had a church conference and had to approve me for all of this,” he said.
“The supervisor and wanted to know when I was going to college, and my pastor didn’t go to college and I figured that was the route I was going. But they wanted me to go to college,” O’Dell said.
“So, I started college with four kids, which was quite a chore. Then I went on to seminary with four kids,” he said.
They were in Georgia, but it was hard to manage on the salary there with four children. He was told he was free to go someplace else, so they relocated where the wages were better.
“The Lord provides; the Lord made a way for us,” he said.
His first church was Reed Chapel at Herrick. From there they went to the Alton area, to a little village called Kane and to Bethel, both small rural churches.
After graduation from college, he went to Mt. Zion, Ga., for the first year at seminary.”
O’Dell and his family moved around for a few years, preaching in Ohio, back to Illinois, to Stryker, Brookford and Powers, then to Palestine Grace UMC, Oblong, O’Fallon, Nashville and other churches.
He retired in July 1995. However, Garrison Temple in Wayne County needed a pastor, and, encouraged by his supervisor, went back into preaching.
He eventually came to fill the pulpits at Haley Chapel and Mt. Carmel, where he has remained for 10 years…and still counting.
O’Dell and his wife, Noreta, have four children – daughters Patricia Ann and Cindy Lou, and sons John Lee Jr. and Timothy Paul.
Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church
According to the documented church history, Mt. Carmel UMC Church, located north of Brownstown, was organized in 1880, and the congregation met at the Rigdon School for many years, until the first building was built in 1888.
The present building was built nearby in 1908.
Although the church was close to closing the doors in 1994, due to lack of attendance, a miracle seemed to have occurred when a Christmas play drew a large crowd, and the doors remained open.
Thus, Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church will celebrate 132 years as a house of worship in a few months.
Haley Chapel United Methodist Church
According to the documented church history, on Feb. 14, 1891, Trustees J.E. Willms, J.L. Thompson, Jacob Dewald and JohnTimker, purchased land along the road what was then the Cumberland Road (now U.S. Route 40) for $25.
The recorded name is Cumberland M.E., Shobonier Circuit, Southern Illinois Conference. It is located east of Bluff City.
Mr. Keisling had been preaching in the old school house building and insisted on building a church. It was built, under many existing difficulties, with donations of money, timber and labor “by the good people of Bluff City and surrounding country,” the church history states. Only one carpenter, Andy Smith, was hired and he built the church seats. The church was dedicated in the summer of 1881, and families came in wagons and buggies, with well-filled baskets, from Vandalia and the surrounding countryside.
As the seats were not yet made, long tables laden with food were set up inside the church. An electric storm occurred during the day, but the dedication was a spiritual blessing.
Information is not available about when the church was named Haley Chapel, but it is assumed that the Haley heirs, who were so generous, had much to do with the change.
Now looking toward its 121st year, Haley Chapel is progressive and wholly consecrated to God’s work.
O’Dell’s fifty years of preaching, Mt. Carmel UMC’s 132 years and Haley Chapel UMC’s 121 years total 303 years of serving the Lord … and still counting, which brings to mind the 100th Psalm; in part – “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs….For the Lord is good, and His love is eternal; His faithfulness endures through all generations.”