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270 years of ministry: St. Paul’s celebrates its rich pastoral history Sunday

Barbara Rhodes Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Woodstock has stood the test of time, and then some. To celebrate 270 years of ministry and service, St. Paul’s is hosting a celebration service Sunday with fellowship, music and reflection on its remarkable history.

Patty Snarr, 62, pianist for St. Paul’s, remembers sitting next to Betty Lambert, 81, former wife of Dr. Harold Miller Sr., a pillar of St. Paul’s, with her siblings when she was a young girl.

“I started sitting with Betty because my parents were in the choir,” Snarr recalled. “She was my teacher. She showed us how to follow the hymnal, how to pray and how to sit still. I credit my love of church to Betty.”

St. Paul’s historically dates back to 1748 when Michael Schlatter visited the town of Mullerstadt, now Woodstock, where he preached and baptized many before continuing on his mission.

Unbeknownst to most, St. Paul’s is five years older than the town of Woodstock itself.

Jack Sheetz, the historian for St. Paul's United Church of Christ, holds an old photo of the former sanctuary inside the museum room of the church. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The first church building was a log structure before our first full-time pastor came in the 1770s,” Jack Sheetz, 84, church historian explained. It was located on the present-day site of the church’s cemetery, which contains graves of early Shenandoah settlers, including those who “aided Gen. George Washington and Cpl. John Effinger,” Sheetz said.

The present building, known for its bright red doors, was built in 1869, following the Civil War. During its 270 years, the church has undergone numerous additions and renovations to provide fellowship, worship, education and service needs for its growing congregation and community.

“I think because this church has always had strong leaders and a very dedicated congregation is why we’re still here,” Snarr said. “Whether it be to our youth fellowship or to our music programs, or to our stewardships or admissions programs, people are committed.”

Rev. Bill Dalke, 75, a retired UCC minister and church historian explained that St. Paul’s grew out of the Reformed Church of Germany and Switzerland, dating back to the Reformation of the 16th century.

Historically speaking the church has gone through some major changes, Dalke said.

Betty Lambert, 86, a member of St. Paul's United Church of Christ, holds one of the church's older Bibles inside the sanctuary of the church on Monday in Woodstock. The church, located at the corner of Main and Spring streets in Woodstock, will celebrate its 270th anniversary Sunday. Lambert, who has been a member of the church since 1954, is an active Sunday School teacher. Her late husband Dr. Harold Miller Sr. was a prominent member of the church. Rich Cooley/Daily

Rev. Barbara Rhodes, 77, a retired UCC minister, preached the gospel to St. Paul’s from 1997 to 2006. She was the first female minister but not the last.

“The leadership of St. Paul’s has always been extraordinary,” Rhodes said. “As a pastor we build on the foundation that has already been set from our previous leaders. You keep building. You teach your congregation to love Christ and one another. It’s about dedication.”

During her time at St. Paul’s, Rhodes was part of a community that continuously looked at how to improve and advance not only the church but also its offerings and congregation. During her pastoral time, Rhodes added contemporary music, advanced St. Paul’s mission network and created a more welcoming and hospitable environment, which is still present today.

“Our goals have remained the same. We teach our children to have reverence and dignity. Reverence for God. And respect for themselves and each other,” Snarr said. “It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.”

Becky Lytton, 70, church secretary, said she looks forward to Wednesdays when the youth of St. Paul’s practice.

“When I was growing up, the youth were so important,” Lytton said. “I grew up in the reverend-bishop era and the youth was so strong. We had a large, 20 some kids of all ages that would just come and do things. That’s where you learn to do things for the community, for each other and for the church.”

St. Paul’s is well known throughout the Northern Shenandoah Valley for community outreach projects. Throughout its 270 years, St. Paul’s has partnered with Massanutten Military Academy and supported the founding of Hoffman Homes for Youth in Pennsylvania. Its work has also included missions such as the Heifer Project, a global organization working to end hunger and poverty around the world.

“Every year we do something to bring each mission to life,” Lytton said. “We may be a smaller congregation, but we have a large outreach in our community.”

One thing each member will agree on is the importance of its congregation.

“We have roughly 100 active members,” Lytton said. “In years past, we had more. Take Dr. Miller. He use to have over 150 men attend his Sunday school class. He would literally pick them up from other churches and ask them to attend. They would and they loved it just as much as he did. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for individuals like Dr. Miller.”

The latest venture for St. Paul’s is a financial assistance program for high school juniors or seniors who want to  take classes at a university but may not be able to afford it.

“We value education as much as we value our children,” Snarr said.

Sunday’s worship is recognition of all the years of ministry St. Paul’s has offered its community. The program begins at 11 a.m. when the congregation will travel back into time and experience St. Paul’s from its founding to today.

After the service there will be refreshments and activities for all ages, including tours of the cemetery, a petting zoo, scavenger hunts and discussions of St. Paul’s history. The church’s museum will be open to the public and tours of historical markers will be offered, including the original stain glass and the building additions over the years.

“It’s important for us to have this celebration for the church because it’s a reminder of how far St. Paul’s has come,” Lytton said. “It’s a reminder of who we are, the people that have kept us here and it’s also a welcome to those looking for a home. We hold a special place in this community and we want to continue to share that with whomever we can.”

IF YOU GO

When: 11 a.m. Sunday

Where: St. Paul’s Church of Christ 235 S. Main St., in Woodstock.

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