Chester church re-opening after seven years

CHESTER – The Rev. Gene Sheppard said he recently attended a small church conference in Lexington, Ky., where he heard of churches that meet outdoors year-round under canopies.

“I thought if they can do that, why not try holding services here again,” Sheppard said, referring to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.

Located at the corner of Indiana and Fourth streets, the church was closed in October 2006 by the West Virginia Episcopal Diocese, which cited declining membership.

But with the support of Bishop William Michie Klusmeyer, it will re-open at 9 a.m. Sunday, with weekly Sunday worship services to resume on that day and time.

Sheppard said the Rev. Jim Reed, a locally ordained priest who served the church in 2006, asked then for another chance to keep its doors open.

“It’s been in the back of my mind all of this time and maybe this is the time,” said Sheppard, who noted in recent years, the area has seen an influx of workers with the oil and gas industry.

Sheppard said he has kept in touch with former members and invited them back to the church and hopes newcomers of various backgrounds will give it a try.

He noted there are many opportunities in Episcopal churches for young and old members, male and female, to get involved if they desire. They include reading Bible lessons before the congregation, assisting with Communion and for youth, serving as acolytes, which are similar to altar servers in the Catholic church.

Sheppard, who oversaw the church prior to its closing and continues to oversee Episcopal churches in Weirton, Colliers and Wellsburg, noted he himself came to the Episcopal church later in life.

A native of Parkersburg and retired employee of G.E. Plastics, he began attending an Episcopal church there with his wife, Kay, and children and was baptized there at age 40.

His parents didn’t attend church when he was a child, he explained, but after becoming a member of the Episcopal church, he felt called to become a priest.

Since coming to Brooke County seven years ago, Sheppard has led worship services at Christ Episcopal Church in Wellsburg, Olde St. John’s in Colliers and St. Thomas in Weirton on an alternating basis.

He will lead services at St. Matthew’s on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. A trained lay person from one of the sister churches will lead services on the other Sundays, as is done with the three other Episcopal churches.

“I will be at every church on Christmas Eve,” Sheppard added.

Except for being rented for a while by members of the Congo Church of the Nazarene, the 100-year-old building has sat vacant since it closed. But Sheppard said he has cut the grass regularly, and heat to the church’s sanctuary has been maintained.

He said his wife, friends and members of the other Episcopal churches have aided in cleaning up the building and assessing repairs that are needed.

Sheppard said work is needed on the roof over the kitchen, but it isn’t leaking, and a volunteer has offered to repair a leak in the bathroom. There also are plans to repair areas of drywall and wallpaper.

Sheppard said music initially will be without instrumental accompaniment and rely on familiar old hymns, though pre-recorded music may be used in the future. He noted the church has an organ that may be operational and he welcomes musicians who would like to volunteer their talents.

Sheppard said a Sunday school isn’t in place but may be added if there’s a need.

“It’s a new beginning, so we’re working to serve the needs as they come,” he said.

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