Central Union United Methodist Church
Perhaps nothing bonds the generations together more than sharing worship and a history in a small church.
And that is true of the families who have crossed the threshold of the Central Union United Methodist Church in the Brush Country. That threshold once welcomed folks to worship on Sixth Avenue in Marlinton when it was the Marlinton Methodist Church.
The lumber from that building was moved and reconstructed at its present location beginning in 1922 and completed in 1927.
Parishioners gathered in that familiar sanctuary on a recent Sunday afternoon to reminisce about the church’s history and tell the tales of their experiences there.
Attendance at that morning’s worship service was 27, and all were descendants of the original families who started this church.
Eighty-three-year-old Hazel Jackson McPeak has a long history there, as her mother was one of the original Trustees of Central Union.
“I’ve been coming here all my life,” she said that day. “One of my fondest memories at Central Union is of Mrs. Virgie Wheeler, the teacher of the children’s Sunday School class. She always gave us a little card with a Bible story and a Bible verse on it. I loved them. We collected them like kids collect baseball cards.”
George and Virgie Wheeler walked to church and they never missed, the group said. Everyone respected their elders and we always called them Uncle George and Aunt Virgie. George was the Sunday School Superintendent, and may have been the first superintendent.
“We were taught to always call them aunt and uncle,” Barbara Jackson Campbell said of that respectful tradition.
And we always opened the doors for them, McPeak added.
“If you didn’t, you got a whipping when you got home,” Campbell said laughing.
The group also spoke of the church’s oldest member, Eula Friel, who recently passed away at the age of 96.
Friel attended this church from an early age, coming there with her parents. And everyone recalled her telling the story of how she climbed around on the rafters when the church was being built.
For a small church, it has been blessed through the years with musicians.
Evaline Friel Beverage’s mother, Hulda Friel, played the pump organ, a tradition carried on today by Carol Dilley. In addition, Dilley shares the piano bench with Cheryl Campbell Cain. Other folks have served the church in that capacity, including Helen Sharp and Beckie Jackson McLaughlin.
The conversation livened with the talk of the church’s musicians.
“Tell the story about your mom,” Cain said to Beverage.
And at its telling, the group erupted into laughter.
“She played the organ,” Beverage said. “One Sunday she stood up for some reason, and she lost her skirt. She picked it up, and put it on the stool, and during the prayer she put it back on.”
Seems to have been a family thing or perhaps unique to organists, as Beverage recalled that Hulda’s sister, Grace, lost her slacks at the Huntersville Methodist Church.
Early on, this musically inclined group had a community choir of 25 folks who traveled all over, even into Virginia, they said.
Dilley entertained everyone with her story of one of the choir’s chauffeurs, Seebert Wilfong.
“Seebert was driving, and he failed to stop at the stop sign where Rite Aid is now,” Dilley said.
No harm was done, but it made for a memory that has lasted through the years.
Dilley recalls Seebert’s reaction to the hullabaloo.
“Someone must know me, he said. “They’re tooting their horns at me.”
Eighty-seven-year-old Beckie Jackson McLaughlin lives in Florida now, but her heart is tied to this church, as well.
I’ve been in this church since I was a baby,” she said.
And she remembers a hardworking minister named Rev. Holliday.
It was under his fundraising prowess that Central Union got new pews. Lumber was procured and the men of the church built the pews that remain there today.
Offering another glimpse into how things used to be, McLauglin laughed as she said, “I don’t think some of the shouters could jump over these pews like they could the old ones.”
Shorter pews, which were actually spring-loaded theatre seats, offered fodder for stories themselves.
“They would fly up and you could go with them,” Dilley said.
But those seats were a part of this church at a time when it boasted an impressive involvement by young people.
“Oh, did Santa Claus come!” McLauglin said. “We had a great, a wonderful celebration at Christmastime. Back then we had 25 young people who walked from Clawson to be a part of the MYF [Methodist Youth Fellowship].”
McLaughlin and her late husband, Chester, led the youth group.
“We’ve always had a Christmas program,” Cain said. “It may be the only time some child or adult steps inside the church. The only time the hear the story.”
And of that Christmas story, Cain said, “I have played every part in the nativity but the baby Jesus.”
This group has total recall of the stories and dedication of the church’s past members, and a commitment to the present, as well.
“The nice thing is the young ones who grew up in the church still attend today,” Campbell said. “They still have memories. It is a part of their heritage.”
Tom Sharp’s heritage lies within the walls of this church, as his parent Charles J. Sharp and Ora Bell Thompson, were married in the church building when it was in Marlinton. When it was moved to the Brush Country, it was within three miles of the Sharp’s home.
Sharp attended the Indian Draft Church on Pleasant Hill, but attended, off and on, at Central Union when his mother was living, he said.
Sharp and his wife, Garnett McCoy Sharp, were baptized at Central Union in 2007. April 27, 2007, to be exact, as Sharp clearly recalled that day.
Relatively new member Mary Lou Waugh shared her story, as well. She and her husband, Junior, were “saved” in this church, she said. Junior passed away in 1992. Mary Lou continues to attend and adds her voice to the choir.
As in most small churches, there is no turnover in Sunday School teachers, although the accommodations have improved. Classes, once partitioned off by curtains in the sanctuary, are now held in rooms which were added in 1983
McPeak teaches the adult class, as she has since 1974. Cain teaches the “little ones,” while her mother, Barbara, passes on her knowledge to the junior class – a responsibility she has had since shortly after she started to attend Central Union in 1953.
Proving that church is, indeed, a family commitment, Tom Campbell is the Sunday School Superintendent.
The church hosts a homecoming every year on the fourth Sunday in June, a tradition that began in 1947.
Weekly worship service is at 10 a.m. with Sunday School afterward.
Sharing laughter, a love for God and for the church, and enough stories to fill a book - what a way to spend an afternoon.
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at jsgraham@poc ahontastimes.com