Williams Chapel plans 122nd anniversary

Although Williams Chapel became a Christian Methodist Episcopal church in 1893, the chapel itself is is around 170 years old -- the oldest place of worship in Front Royal. Photo courtesy of Williams Chapel CME.

FRONT ROYAL — A weekend of gospel, fellowship and good food awaits the community of Williams Chapel for the church’s 122nd anniversary. To celebrate such a long history, a handful of parishioners took it upon themselves to form a board and organize an event more involved than the parish’s annual homecoming.

“Ever year we have a homecoming, but nobody ever thought of having an anniversary,” anniversary board chairperson Frances Graham said. “We should’ve had that all along.”

For Williams Chapel’s past homecomings, usually occurring the third weekend in July, the church sends invitations to past parishioners who have moved out of town to attend services and enjoy the church’s fellowship.

This year, Williams Chapel is paying homage to its history as the oldest place of worship in Front Royal for an entire weekend. The anniversary board decided to hold the anniversary earlier than the usual homecoming ceremony so as not to coincide with events held by other area churches.

On June 13, the church will host a picnic at Bing Crosby Stadium in the afternoon, and this evening singing groups from Front Royal up to Clear Brook will take part in a gospel fest at Williams Chapel.

The church will hold two services on June 14 with a home-cooked lunch served between them. Presiding elder the Rev. Kevin Agee will lead the 10 a.m. service and the Rev. Ronald Chunn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Nelsonville, Ohio, will lead the 3 p.m. service. Chunn is a Front Royal native and many of his parishioners from First Baptist will also be attending the anniversary celebrations.

Graham said plenty of prayer and planning went into the event. She called it an adventure and a lot of work.

“I’m really not complaining,” she said laughingly. “I love every minute of it.”

The anniversary board began planning their event last November with the theme of “Pray, Believe, Receive,” out of Matthew 21:22. Anniversary board chairperson Virginia Brown said the theme came into play in preparation for the event’s fundraiser, a fish fry held on Memorial Day weekend. The current pastor, the Rev. Joyce Orr, said she teaches and preaches based on those three principles.

Since the chapel building itself was finished in 1845, it served as a Presbyterian church, courthouse, seat of county government, schoolhouse and Christian Methodist Episcopal church. During the first full year of the Civil War, Warren County government left the courthouse for use as a military hospital and set up in Williams Chapel.

M.C. Richardson bought the church from school trustees in 1890 and sold it three years later to the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, whose fellowship has stood strong through generations of dedicated parishioners.

Although Orr has been with Williams Chapel since her assignment in 2010, she said she is proud of the congregation’s lasting involvement with the community through health services and outreach.

“I am excited about this anniversary … to celebrate the rich history, the roots, and what the church has meant to the community as a whole,” she said. “I’m very proud of what the church has been doing.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com