Mt. Sterling United Church: House of worship turns 100

 Messenger photos by Kristy Zurbrick

Among the longtime members of the United Church in Mount Sterling are: (front row, from left) Ross Alkire Jr., Deacon Tanner; (second row) Mary Lou Webber, Marjorie Wittich and Ann Parrett; (back row) Barbara Swonger and Bob Webber.

The United Church at 30 E. Columbus St. in Mount Sterling was built in 1907 for approximately $12,500.

The United Church in Mount Sterling has been known by many names over the years. To the small but devout congregation, the name that fits best is “home.”

“This is the only church I’ve ever gone to. It’s home to me,” said Mary Lou Webber, whose fond memories of the church include her 12:45 a.m. wedding to Bob Webber on June 10, 1951. A change in Bob’s military leave prompted the early-hour ceremony, which the pastor at the time was happy to accommodate.

On Sept. 22 from 4 to 7 p.m., memories like these will be the order of the evening as the congregation cele-brates the 100th anniversary of their house of worship. The event will be an ice cream social, to which the public is invited. The church is located at 30 E. Columbus St.

The cornerstone for the brick church was laid on Sept. 16, 1907. The cost of the building was $10,321.50 with an additional cost of $2,186 for furnishings and art glass windows.

Church member Deacon Tanner knows at least one of the names on the 1907 building committee—his great-grandfather, the Rev. Henry Jay Duckworth, was the church’s minister at the time. Tanner’s grandfather, C.C. Ryan, also spent time as the church’s minister.

Family connections like these are a common theme among the older members of the United Church congregation. Ross Alkire Jr., for example, has been a member his entire life (87 years), as was his father and grandfather before him. The name of his great-grandfather, Abraham Reed, appears at the base of one of the stained glass windows.

Marjorie Wittich’s mother-in-law, Mary, is the church’s oldest member. Mary, 101, lives in Grove City. Mount Sterling resident Ann Parrett is a lifelong member, as well.

As times have changed, fewer families can lay claim to multi-generational membership in the church. While the pews bustled in the 1980s, Sundays now see just a couple of dozen worshippers.

“We seem to be going the way of all the old order churches. Now, young people grow up and move out of the area,” said Barbara Swonger, who once served as director of a large choir at the church.

“We don’t have a choir anymore, but we still manage to make a joyful noise,” she added.

Thanks to a gift from the Hildebrandt family, a pipe organ has accompanied that joyful noise since 1931. For 40 years, Mary Riddle commanded the keys and pedals. Now, Matt Scavo of Gahanna and Eleanor Alkire of Mount Sterling take turns.

For the past 11 years, Dr. Stephen Brown served as the church’s minister. He retired in June, and the church is actively seeking his replacement. Among the interim pastors is Doug Shotsky, a grandson of former members John and Eleanor Beale. Shotsky is a student at Circleville Bible College.

Members hope to find a new minister who appreciates and nurtures the spirit on which the church was founded.

In addition to the ice cream social, the congregation may open the church’s original cornerstone, which historical records say contains articles placed there by members. Later in the year, a Sunday school reunion also is a possibility.

The United Church’s annual yard sale will run from 8 a.m. to noon Sept. 21-22.

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