When A Church Closes

Yesterday brought some bad news. The church my grandfather built will close next month. It’s a Nazarene Church in Chesterhill, Ohio that he pastored a long time ago.

Sermons will cease, the doors will close and the building will be sold by the District. The eighteen souls who pray there will no longer have their community house of worship.

This congregation has been dwindling for some years but they pay their bills on time and faithfully minister to the spiritual needs of those who enter.

My mother is beside herself with grief and worry. It’s a part of our family history but it’s also a good building. It was well built and has been maintained over the years. And yes, it is a small congregation but they are faithful to the church. The nearest Nazarene Church is too far for most of them to drive every week as so many of them are elderly.

She called the District Office yesterday and was more or less humored by someone who listened to her complaint and who provided less than satisfactory answers to her questions. What will happen to those eighteen souls? What would God think of you selling His house?

This isn’t a new or unique problem for small churches and communities across America. I see it all the time in my backroads journeys – these old churches and aging congregations struggle to compete with the new churches and all the modern, fun conveniences they offer.

It’s also hard to survive in a church conference that appears to value money more than souls. That statement may sound harsh and maybe it isn’t fair but that’s how it feels.

But you see it in other areas of small town life. Wander around long enough and you’ll spot the signs of communities being left behind – abandoned hospitals, schools, churches and stores are all too common.

I suppose it’s just a sign of these times but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

There’s a lot of good in our small communities. What we lack in population and wealth we make up for with fresh air, room to roam, friendly neighbors and kind strangers. Our rush hours involve school buses rather than traffic jams. People here tend to mind their own business until you need them. Then they carry in food when someone dies and offer to help when there’s work to be done.

Our residents tend to feel a sense of place and belonging that comes from knowing your neighbors and from sitting in the same church pew every Sunday for a lifetime.

Too bad there’s no money to be made in local character.

I don’t know what it would take to convince a community of less than 280 people to rally behind the church down the street. But it’s a slippery slope as every loss leads to another. Our small towns like Chesterhill can’t afford to lose anything else.

Longtime readers may recall a story that I wrote a few years ago about a day in the Chesterhill area when we visited this church. You can read it here.

Meanwhile, I fear its days are numbered and there’s nothing I can do to help.


Todds UM Church

Last summer I took my mother on a little trip back to her hometown where we did some exploring and saw a friend and his band play at an old hall that I love. If you’re interested in reading the story of that kind of weird day, just click here.

There was a church that I photographed along the way and loved so much that I had to stop and do it again when I was in the area recently.

Todds United Methodist Church was built in 1894. Copied off a church in Cincinnati, the belfry sort of resembles a wedding cake. It’s a country church with sort of a fancy flair that causes it to really stand out in a rural landscape.

Check out some of these architectural details!

Todds UM Church 5

Todds UM Church 6

Todds UM Church 8

Todds UM Church window


Quaker Meeting House


Chesterfield Meeting House

Years ago when visiting my Aunt Florene in Chesterhill, Ohio she took me to the Quaker Meeting House where she worshiped.

Quaker worship sounds very appealing to me. The meeting house is simple and and worship is based on silent waiting. During this time, they listen for the small voice that comes from God through what they call Inward Light. Worshiping with others in silence forms a different kind of community.

That’s not to say that it is completely silent. If someone feels moved to speak, they do. And then the silence continues.

Quakers are welcoming to all and worshipers are encouraged to come as they are. They believe that every person is loved by and guided by God. For an introvert who is annoyed by the amount of chatter in some churches, this sounds like a dream come true. I’m sure this is an over simplified explanation of the faith but hopefully you will be interested to learn more.

Chesterhill was founded by the Quakers in 1834 and was originally called Chesterfield. This meeting house was built five years later and sits on the same site as the original meeting house from their founding year.

Morgan County had a well organized chapter of the Underground Railroad and the Quakers of this town were said to be instrumental in its success. Legend has it that no slaves were ever captured here.

The day I visited, Florene and I were the only two people in the building. It was a peaceful experience and it made me wish I lived closer.

I think I was still using film at the time or maybe was just transitioning to digital. The photos aren’t especially good (and I would love to go back someday) but you hopefully will find it interesting anyway.




Union Hall Theater Revisited


Back in July I told you about visiting Union Hall Theater when I went to see an old pal and his band perform. It was an unusual day, odd enough that I wrote another post just about what happened.

I wanted to go that day because of the band but had another motive. I was there years ago, when it was closed, and swore that someday I would be back for a show.

Today I found the pictures from that day. Have a look!



Union Hall Theater

aaa union hall

This weekend I got to see a live performance at Union Hall Theater in Chesterhill. I mentioned it yesterday but wanted to give it some attention of its own.

I was there once, one hot summer day, when my Aunt Janice took me inside. She worked in the Kate Love Simpson Morgan County Library, which inhabits the first floor, and had access to the second floor theater.

This place felt like a time capsule. It seemed as though they turned off the lights after a show and just walked away. At the time, there was talk of someone trying to reopen the theater but I don’t recall there being a real plan. I sat in the balcony and swore that if it ever reopened I would return for a performance.


It was built in 1908 and hosted all sorts of live performances over the years. When movies came into vogue, they began showing films too. I don’t know much else about the place but there is a non-profit organization working to revive it.

Make no mistake. This theater has not been restored. Some of the tin ceiling tiles show damage and the floors are worn from use. But it’s clean and all those signs of wear lend character. It’s not a fancy space like some theaters of that period. That may be one reason I like it so well. There is a sparseness, a simplicity that makes all of the details that much more beautiful. I suppose that is appropriate since the town was founded by Quakers.

I don’t know what plans are in the works but I really hope they don’t change the feel of the place. It feels at once old and timeless, plain and yet special. It is special and I hope to go back again someday.  If I lived closer I would volunteer to help with their PR or something else useful but I’m a little too far away to be helpful.

Want to learn more? Here’s their website. You can also follow them on Facebook. I imagine they would be happy to receive monetary donations and would be thrilled to see your smiling face in a seat for a show someday.




A Serendipitous Journey

Do you believe in serendipity? Coincidence? A higher power?

The last few weeks have felt as though there is a plan or a schematic of some kind that I just don’t see or understand. I won’t bore you with the details but it seems like every choice I have made recently has brought me to a juncture where I didn’t know I needed to be.

Here’s a part of that story.

On a whim, I decided to venture over to Chesterhill to see the Blues Cowboys perform. They play a lot in the area and I know the bandleader but just can’t seem to make a local show.  If you haven’t seen them, you really should because they’re fabulous. They were playing at Union Hall Theater which had been closed and neglected for many years but is now hosting live performances.

I once sat in that beautiful but empty theater and swore that if it ever reopened I would return someday to see a show. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to fulfill that goal and to see my pal and his band. I’ll tell you more about the theater later this week.

This is my mother’s old stomping grounds and she went along hoping to see some people from her past. That didn’t really go as planned, until the end of the day, that is.

Our first stop was Big Bottom Memorial Park which I wrote about here. Then it was back to Stockport to a little place called Riviera. It sits right on the river and has great pizza and service.

Next we visited a pretty little country church that I fell in love with. My mother had suggested a couple of other places to see but, at the last minute, I pulled over here at a spot-in-the-road called Todds. Friends will tell you that I have an odd fascination with churches and cemeteries. Don’t ask, I can’t explain it. I’m sort of a heathen so it’s probably weirder than I know.

We were preparing to leave when I heard a kitten in distress. Being a cat person who badly wants to have a cat again, this was almost too much to handle. It was under the handicap ramp and I could not coax it out. It sounded like it was alone and we didn’t know if it was trapped or hurt or just waiting for its mama to come back. We had no way to get it out and didn’t know what we would do with it if we did.

Soooo, I left a note on the door for Sunday morning worshipers to find the next day and we agreed to look for someone out working in their yard who might be willing to go attend to the very distressed little one at the church. Yes. We are those people.

Wouldn’t you know that we didn’t see a living soul anywhere? Just as we had given up, my mother spotted a sheriff’s cruiser sitting in a driveway. So she marched up to the front door and introduced herself to the bewildered man of the house who agreed to go rescue the kitten. During this conversation, she learned he was the son of a girl she grew up with.

What are the odds that we would stop at that church or that we would choose that road with the deputy, the child of an old friend, who would actually follow through and go for the cat?

We continued on our journey, making a few more stops along the way.

I wanted to photograph my grandfather’s church. He built that church and pastored it many years ago and I really wanted some pictures. I thought about stopping on my way through town the first time and contemplated stopping before the concert but ultimately decided to wait.

I was glad that I waited.


While we were there, a truck pulled up and a man climbed out. He was my mother’s childhood friend. More exactly, the older brother of a childhood friend. He remembered her and the entire family and he had keys to the church. We got to go inside!

He said that he almost didn’t stop that night but he decided to drop off some things for morning and he was happy to have Reverend Wogan’s daughter come inside.

My mother described it as “coming home.” The church has been lovingly preserved and even the artwork on the walls is the same as when she was young. This gentleman played the organ for us and told of how he learned to play years ago because the church needed someone to do it. My mother played a little on the piano and I snapped pictures.

The rest of the day was great. The roadtrip, the music, people and food – but this encounter made it all worthwhile.

On the way home, we stopped in Amesville where her family lived and where my grandpa owned a hardware store.  Flood waters all but destroyed part of that town over time and there is now a park where the hardware once stood. The place where they lived is just a field and the bus garage where her father labored to support his family is a parking lot. He’s been on our minds a lot this month as we just observed the anniversary of his passing.

But it wasn’t really sad. The Fireman’s Festival was underway – a community celebration complete with live music, bingo, kiddie games and food, brought the street to life. Strains of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” could be heard throughout the small town and seemed appropriate given the sentimental journey we were on that day.

We were poor but we had love
That’s the one thing that daddy made sure . . .

Well a lot of things have changed since a way back then
And it’s so good to be back home again

So much has happened this week. There have been times that I intended to go left but went right. Left late, arrived early, chose to engage in a conversation that I might normally avoid. As a result I have found myself in unusual conversations with unexpected people and in places that I never thought I would go. I even played a part in rescuing a distressed kitten. Whether you call it serendipity, chance or Divine Intervention – it has been an unusual time in my life and one I won’t soon forget.

Where will it all lead? What does it all mean? I guess that’s part of the adventure. We’ll just have to wait and see.