Bethany church marks two centuries of service

BETHANY – The origin of Castleman Run United Methodist Church can be traced to 200 years ago, and church members and guests gathered this weekend to take part in activities inspired by those roots and reflect on their own history there.

Shirley Kemp, who led the event’s organizers, noted the first to worship at the site pitched tents there, gathering for services led by the Rev. Joshua Monroe, a traveling preacher who consecrated the land for worship in 1814.

Kemp recruited her brother, Lynn Cowell, to enlist friends in re-enactment groups to pitch tents outside the church over the weekend as the early settlers had done. She noted the early worshippers also gathered for food and fellowship.

To re-create that feeling, the festivities included a picnic on the lawn on Friday evening and covered dish luncheon on Sunday, vespers and sing-alongs around a bonfire on Friday and Saturday night and skillet throwing and hog calling contests and period games for children through Saturday.

There also was worship and country music by several visiting musicians, including a strolling bagpiper; and face painting and a Christian-themed magic show for children.

In 1831 George Jones, a local farmer, donated part of his land for the church and the present building was constructed, and George A. Jones III of Washington, Pa. was on hand Sunday morning to portray his ancestor.

Jones presented a copy of the deed to Matt Charlton, a member and former pastor of the church who played Monroe.

Jones said it was an emotional moment for him, as he had been baptized at the church. He also brought along several photos from the church’s past.

One offered a view of the church and members from a nearby hillside and was believed to have been taken about 100 years ago.

He said the quiet country road that extends past the church once was a busy trail for farmers herding livestock from West Alexander, Pa. to Wellsburg.

Looking back on more recent years, long-time members recalled a Sunday school area and kitchen were added in 1951 and a fellowship hall was built onto the church in 1971.

Church member Bernard Hunt Sr. said lumber for the fellowship hall came from a church on Main Street in Weirton, that had been closed and torn down.

Hunt said he first came to the church at age 12, when he bicycled from Beech Bottom to visit his uncle, the Rev. Bill Hunt, who was pastor there.

Later, when he was old enough to drive, he brought coal to heat it.

“Of course, we use (heating) oil now,” Hunt said.

His daughter, Tina Hunt Waterhouse of Wheeling, said she was among members who were baptized at nearby Buffalo Creek by the Rev. Kenneth Dight, the church’s pastor from 1967 to 1974.

Kemp said a number of the baptisms were performed at night, perhaps because services have been held in the afternoon and evening at times to accommodate pastors shared with other churches.

Presently its Sunday worship hour is 9:30 a.m., with Sunday school at 10:30 a.m.

Charlton noted he and other clergy from the church also have served Kadesh Chapel in Wellsburg, West Liberty Federated Church and Independence United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania, and several members of those churches were on hand also this weekend.

Currently the church is led by the Revs. John Lepp and James Rahr, who lead services on alternating weeks.

Another former pastor in attendance was the Rev. Paul Inks of Irwin, Pa., who noted the church was his first assigment upon graduating from seminary in 1958.

JoAnn Davis, the church’s treasurer, recalled how she and a few other young girls at the church had crushes on the 20-year-old minister.

Inks admitted he wasn’t oblivious to their attention, but on a more serious note said the faith of those at Castleman Run strengthened his own faith.

Members of the church noted it has played a major part in their lives in times good and bad.

Mary Tennant said she came to the church in 1972 when Dight led the funeral service for her 17-year-old son, who had drowned.

She later led the church’s children’s choir, which included children ranging in age from 3 to 13 and performed at other area churches, and served as organist.

“I just love it because it’s a family church and it’s a country church and I grew up in country church,” Tennant said.

Kemp said she only became a member about five years ago “but from the moment I stepped into the church, everyone made me feel welcome.”

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com)