WELLSBURG, NY: Episcopal church closing will break up 'close-knit family'

david at virtueonline.org david at virtueonline.org
Fri Aug 5 10:03:55 EDT 2011

WELLSBURG, NY: Wellsburg Episcopal church closing will break up 'close-knit family'

by Jeff Murray
The Star Gazette
July 30, 2011  

Harry Stewart wasn't around when Christ Episcopal Church of Wellsburg opened in 1869, but he has been a member of the venerable house of worship for nearly 60 years.

Stewart will also be on hand Sunday when the church that has been a centerpiece of the Wellsburg community holds its last service and closes its doors for good.

Christ Episcopal Church at 280 Main St. has been more than just a place to gather and worship, Stewart said. It's more like an extended family.

I had a chance to meet with some of those family members last week.

"A big part of the service is the coffee hour after worship. You get to know people instead of just going to the service and walking out the door," said Stewart, a church member since 1953.

"We had pancake breakfasts and spaghetti suppers. It's like a family. To break that up is hard," he said.

"There is a chance we won't see a lot of them again. It's going to be real hard to go to another church. Even if it's an Episcopal church, you are still an outsider."

Christ Episcopal Church has a long and proud history serving the Wellsburg and Ashland areas and is the only building in the Town of Ashland with official historic designation, according to Lois Barton, senior warden at the church.

A plaque on the outside of the building proclaims that distinction.

But membership has always gone up and down, and in recent years has waned to the point that no more than 10 people show up on any given Sunday.

None of the remaining members even live in Wellsburg anymore, Barton said.

The church hasn't had its own pastor in years and shares a priest with a cluster of Episcopal churches in the area.

The remaining members finally made the painful decision to dissolve the church. The building will remain the property of the Central Episcopal Diocese of New York, which will decide its fate, Barton said.

Some items housed in the church will be donated to the Ashland Historical Society.

The congregation members will go their separate ways, something that will not be easy for members such as Margaret Chaffee.

"We've been big supporters of the community. We made a big donation for a playground, and we supported senior dinners here in Wellsburg," Chaffee said.

"It's a close-knit family. Troubles -- everyone shared them. We had a prayer ministry. We care about our community and our people."

After more than 140 years, there is a lot of history inside Christ Episcopal Church.

The children's altar is inscribed with the name of Esther Margaret Welliver, a 9-year-old girl who was killed by a car in 1931 only minutes after leaving Sunday school.

In the back of the church is a list of veterans who served in the "Great World War."

The church's decades-old bell still sits in the steeple, and it will ring for one final time following Sunday's 2 p.m. service.

"After that service, we'll put on a reception at the fire hall. Anybody who wants to can come in. We're still doing our coffee hour," Barton said.

"My concern is, in Wellsburg, what will happen to the organizations we supported? Who is going to pick that up? We hope someone will." 


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