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West Glenville's First Reformed church marks its 200th year

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
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The First Reformed Church in West Glenville will celebrate its 200th anniversary Tuesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
The First Reformed Church in West Glenville will celebrate its 200th anniversary Tuesday.

— Two hundred years is a very long lifespan for a church congregation, especially one like West Glenville’s First Reformed Church, planted in a community so small that the closest thing to a store is the local fi re station.

Nevertheless, the little congregation has held continuous services for two solid centuries, which is quite an accomplishment given all of the church buildings they’ve gone through.

“We’re celebrating 200 years and aiming for 200 more,” said church secretary Sharon Groat. “Of course, I won’t be around for that.”

Groat has attended First Reformed her entire life, which is more than 60 years now.

“I consider it a family,” she said, recounting how as a child she walked with her parents, along with everyone else in the hamlet, down the street to church every Sunday morning.

In the past few weeks, special services were held at the church, starting with an outdoor service, a traditional Dutch service and, last week, a service set to music.

“It was stupendous,” Groat said. “So many people said it was one of the most meaningful things they had ever heard.”

It was composed by music and education director Jordan White and brought out 143 people, which is more than have filled the sanctuary in decades.

The congregation isn’t just celebrating its long lineage; it’s celebrating a comeback.

White laid out a short history of the place.

“At first, services were held in an old barn along Route 147,” he said.

As the congregation grew, it started selling subscriptions to raise money for a church building.

“One guy donated 50 bushels of lime,” he said. “That’s what he had, so that’s what he gave.”

The church itself was built at a time when community leaders thought a busy town center would spring up in what is now west Glenville, rather than 10 miles away in east Glenville.

The result is a church with “nothing around,” according to Groat.

There have been several church buildings over the years, due to fi res and such — the current building was built in 1964 to replace one that burned down — but the congregation has been relatively steady.

White said turnout likely crested in the 1960s and ’70s but declined after that.

“We had trouble with interim pastors coming and going,” he said, adding that he now shares preaching responsibilities with interim pastor Bill Faulkner.

When White came to the church in 2009, the congregation was down to about 40 regulars. He started a choir and praise band, and the crowd has been growing since.

Now, there are between 50 and 60 in attendance each Sunday, the largest youth group in the church’s recent history and a growing young adult group called the “God Squad.” There are even a few new faces brought in by the recent festivities.

“I think the church has made it so long because of the community,” White said. “It’s a place where you still know your neighbors, and the church is the same way.”

This Sunday’s service will be led by the God Squad.

The end of the anniversary celebration will be marked by a turkey dinner Saturday, Oct. 20.

 
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