By MaryAnn Kromer, email@example.com
As St. John's United Church of Christ prepares for its 175th anniversary, some of its members spoke about the preparations and shared stories about its past. Interim pastor Gary Proietti has been leading the church for more than two years. Although the congregation is small, at about 365 people, he said the anniversary celebration is generating some excitement. He said many members have provided archival items for a display that is being assembled.
"One lady brought in a baptismal gown that belonged to her late aunt," Proietti said.
Mary Powell is the chairwoman for the anniversary events, along with a committee of five other people who started planning in May. She mentioned the physical changes that have happened in the church, such as the creation of a parking lot on the west side of the church, installation of air conditioning and an elevette for handicap accessibility.
"We are in the process of having a new outdoor sign installed also, which will be very nice. It's going to be on an angle so it will be seen from Jefferson Street and Main Street," Powell said. "We're starting a capital campaign, too, later in October."
"Hopefully, it will be a good day. We're going to have a nice meal and with the conference minister, Rev. Molsberry."
St. John's United Church of Christ, 10 Main St., Tiffin, is celebrating its 175th anniversary Oct. 3. The celebration begins with an anniversary church service at 10:30 a.m. Following the service, there is to be a potluck meal, dedication of the church youth's Peace Pole and a celebration.
Art Page and Wanda Bohrer, co-directors of the bell choir, have been involved since the group's inception in 1997. Bohrer's grandson also plays the bells, along with about seven other people who regularly come to rehearsals.
"We probably average once a month. ... About a month out, we look at everybody's calendar and determine who can be here. If they can't be here, you get a sub or do a different day," Page said.
For the anniversary service, they have been practicing "O Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down," a selection from a concert they performed last year. Page said the three octaves of handbells were a gift.
"We actually inherited these bells from a church in California. ... I didn't really want to be in charge of the choir, but I didn't want them sitting there, either," he said.
Page said he joined the congregation in the mid-1980s and served as financial secretary for 25 years. He also has been in the choir for 25 years. Page said Karen and the Rev. David Culp also played bells for a time.
Culp, now a part-time pastor at St. John's UCC in Fostoria, is retired from full-time ministry at St. John's in Tiffin. He is not active at the Tiffin church now, but he still gets the newsletter, and his wife is still a member in Tiffin. A native of Atlanta, Ga., Culp said his family moved to Cleveland in the early 1950s. He earned an undergraduate degree at Kent State University and transferred to a school in New Jersey to attend seminary and obtain his master's degree.
"St. John's was my third church. The other two were associate positions, so this was the first church where I was 'it.' I had no intention of staying 31 years, but I stayed 31 years," Culp said.
He remembered arriving the first Sunday in October 1976. In reviewing improvements made to the church during his tenure, he listed making the restrooms handicapped-accessible, remodeling the fellowship area, updating the sanctuary and adding cushions to the pews.
Culp said the parking lot about four years ago generated some controversy because it required removing a mature tree and reducing the green space next to the church.
The project went forward after a storm damaged the top of the tree. Culp said an elderly woman who wanted the parking lot donated funds as seed money, but she died before it was completed. She especially wanted handicapped parking near the side entrance. Culp said she is an example of how well the members have supported the church over the years.
"The building, when it was built, cost $40,000. To raise money, the women of the church had what they called 'penny suppers.' They would have these really nice meals and charge a penny per spoonful. They raised an awful lot of money, because they would have them quite frequently," Culp said.
Some older members of the church told Culp the lines waiting for the dinners would stretch all the way down to Washington Street. Culp said St. John's also has given a lot of support for the missions.
As the history states, the church also added a bell that came from a church that had been torn down. It obtained the bell from the trustee of an area cemetery. Culp said the cemetery association salvaged the bell from the demolished church and placed it in the cemetery for many years until vandalism became a problem.
"Some of the folks at church ... got wind of the bell in this guy's barn and someone donated the money. They only charged us $500 for that bell, which would have cost thousands to cast," Culp said.
He added Tiffin Scenic Studios built a cradle for the bell, and a Cincinnati firm installed a system to ring it for $5,000. Bells played a different role in 1997 when St. John's received a set of handbells from a UCC church that was being closed in California. The son of a St. John's parishioner informed the Tiffin congregation that the California church was looking for a home for The Bells of Hope. Culp said he drafted a letter requesting the bells for St. John's. Soon after, the closed church donated the bells.
"I had a lot of happy times at St. John's," Culp said.