September 29, 2016

Historic Saganing Indian Church closing its doors

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STANDISH TWP. — After 166 years, the Saganing Indian Church is closing its doors Jan. 1.

According to its final pastor, William Sanders, the church’s closure was necessitated due to lack of attendance: he said no one has been to church services there in a year and a half.

The church initially formed in 1846 as part of a Methodist mission to Native Americans, known as the Pesahgening mission. It held services in a log schoolhouse, utilizing the teacher there as the translator, until Dec. 30, 1874, when the current church building was dedicated.

The following year, 1875, the church reported 114 members, with 59 students attending the Sunday school.

According to the book “Methodist Indian Ministries in Michigan,” the Saganing mission had a hard time encouraging a white teacher to come and stay, which was common practice at the time. The church instead sent over Native American pastors, such as Peter Johnson and John Irons, who had no problem living in the swampy land as the locals were already doing.

In the 1860s Mary Sagatoo, a white woman who came to the community with her previous husband and Saganing native Joseph Cabay before his death, and then remarried his cousin Peter Sagatoo in 1863, took on teaching duties at a Sabbath school for five years before a district school was opened, where she continued to teach. She eventually stopped teaching for a while to try and raise funds to construct a dedicated church building, which cost $1,500 to build.

The book reported that regular attendance in 1989 had dropped to 22-25 at the church, a slow decline that took place over the course of the 20th century.

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