By Barbara Van Reed
Among the unique, architecturally historic buildings in Webster is the Church of the Reconciliation, tucked just off the Main Street bend at 5 North Main. The building, with its gracefully pitched roof and 52-foot bell tower, was given a facelift this summer with a new coat of paint and a new set of Plexiglas protective coverings for its wonderful stained glass windows. It had been about twenty years since the Plexiglas had been replaced and had become cloudy, obscuring visibility of the stained glass. “Now we again see how beautiful those windows are,“ said The Rev. Janice C. Ford, Rector at the church.
The church’s history is closely intertwined with the history of Webster, the Slater family figures very prominently in its founding. The first service of the Episcopalian Church was held in the old town hall in East Webster in 1869. The following year William Slater, a grandson of Samuel Slater, purchased property on North Main Street and presented it to the parish. The well-known Gothic revival architects Richard and R. M. Upjohn of New York were commissioned to design a wooden church in the neo-Gothic tradition with a 52-foot bell tower and seating for 300 people.
The 14 lovely stained glass windows are best appreciated from inside the building. There they come alive. Among them: The Nativity, the Life of Christ, St. Andrew, St. Cecelia, and The Good Samaritan. The windows were given in memorial by its members over the course of the church’s first one hundred years, and each has its own history.
During a guided tour of the church, Pastor Ford pointed out that the interior was finished entirely with chestnut, the pews, chancel, the altar, the pulpit, everything with the exception of the rood beam, which is a hand-carved solid oak beam above the chancel. She pointed out the careful arrangement of the chancel furniture: the altar, the choir seating, the reredos altarpiece, presbytery chair, and pulpit, to bring the people closer to God. Along the center aisle are four original gaslight candelabras, which have since been electrified.
The Slater family involvement didn’t end with the church building. Lydia Slater donated a magnificent Hook and Hastings pipe organ in 1873, which was enlarged and refurbished by the Slater family in 1912. The tower bell was first run in 1884; it was donated by Mr. H.N. Slater. The five sisters of William Slater gave the parish hall, located behind the church, in his memory in 1898. In 1914, through another Slater gift, it was enlarged and raised with a basement gymnasium and kitchen. It was the first gym in Webster, and local boys could play basketball there, while the Slater sisters taught young ladies their “stitches.”
The Rev. Ford came to the Church of the Reconciliation in 2008 and is its first female pastor. As beautiful and peaceful a sanctuary as this church is, “People don’t just come walking in on Sunday mornings anymore,” said Pastor Ford, so we see our mission as being outreach.
“People do search for God or for meaning in their lives. They recognize the need for an anchor in life. But they don’t have time to invest in finding a church they feel comfortable in or called to.” Among the things that stand in the way, she says, are the stresses of life; people are too busy to give up a Sunday morning. Some are fed up with traditional church, finding it boring, unexciting, she said. Some think churches cause more problems than they solve, the abuse issues, for example, or the financial scandals at some of the mega-churches.
“Some people who see the need for church, having gone as a child perhaps, are disappointed. They are not feeling fulfilled by traditional churches. Some of the sacramental churches, like the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches, can be hung up on rites and liturgy, versus focusing on how Scripture helps you find God in your life, and on living with Christ. That seems to be lacking in some churches.
“Our culture has made God uncool,” she says. “Our culture tells us, ‘look how good and wealthy we are,’ and God falls by the wayside.
“I want disciples of God in my church, not members. In this parish we are evolving, and we are reaching out.” That outreach includes use of the parish hall by Alcoholics Anonymous, a food pantry, Christmas gifts for families in the community, and donations for the Boys & Girls Club and New Hope.
“Though we are a small church, we felt God was using us for evangelism, but people were not walking through the door, so we needed to find a different way,” she said. Last November church members had an all-day meeting with the diocese governing board, and concluded that another way to reach out, another way for people to hear the Word, was to have a satellite facility. Not another church, but another location, and perhaps not even in Webster. The Bishop agreed. Two months later an anonymous parishioner heard about the goal and made a large donation to get it started.
The church council has decided that the satellite location will be in Dudley, and they are looking for a place where they can meet weekly, not on a Sunday morning, but probably during the week, maybe on a Wednesday or Saturday night. “We are looking for available space; it could be an empty store, or an office.”
That new space may not be as beautiful as the Church of the Reconciliation building, but it might be a place for people to come to and find that anchor they've been looking for.
Note: Historical facts are from the church website.
- Wednesday, 22 August 2012
- Posted in Categories: : Letter From the Editor