Greene County Presbyterians look to the future
By ANDREW MCGINN
From eight members grew a church community that has thrived for 150 years.
What First Presbyterian Church in Jefferson looks like 150 years from now, no one can say.
But to think it all started with four married couples should give the declining number of present-day members peace of mind knowing, as it says in the Gospel, with God all things are possible.
Still, they sometimes can’t help but notice how things have changed.
“You’ll never see that many babies in our church again,” remarked Roger Olhausen, a member of First Presbyterian for more than 50 years and a member of its 150th anniversary committee, about a photo taken in 1911 of the church’s “cradle roll.”
The congregation in February kicked off its 150th anniversary year, which will culminate Labor Day weekend with a special service and a lunch with at least three former pastors in attendance.
It’s a rich history to celebrate, with two buildings at the center of it all — one, the “little white church” with a steeple, built in 1889, and the other, a modern work of architecture without a steeple that chased off a few of the more traditional-minded members, built in 1974.
It’s a history full of would-be local trivia questions, like who had the first pipe organ in Greene County?
That would be First Presbyterian and its original, 1,000-pipe organ, purchased in 1900, that required boys to pump by hand.
There’s even a little lore in the First Presbyterian story.
Rumor always had it, the Presbyterians and Congregationalists who were worshipping together in the early 1870s flipped a coin to decide the flock’s permanent denomination.
In the midst of looking back, though, local Presbyterians are also taking action to ensure the next 150 years are just as memorable.
On July 1, the county’s three Presbyterian congregations — Jefferson, Grand Junction and Paton — officially united under the name the Greater Greene County Presbyterian Ministry.
The three churches will remain autonomous but now share leadership.
“The churches are kind of like the schools at this point,” said Olhausen, a retired eighth grade math teacher.
The shared ministry — approved by vote at all three churches — is an admission that things aren’t what they once were, for Presbyterians or any other mainline denomination.
But it’s a creative alternative to closing a church, as will soon be the case with Catholic churches in Grand Junction and Churdan.
“We did not want churches to disappear from our smaller communities,” said Lori DeBok, a 45-year member of First Presbyterian in Jefferson.
The Rev. Gordon Moen, pastor in Jefferson since 2003, and commissioned lay pastor Wendy Pittman have split preaching duties and office hours between the three churches.
At First Presbyterian in Jefferson — organized Feb. 16, 1867, in the local schoolhouse as the Presbyterian Church of New Jefferson — membership has been mostly stable the past five years.
Even still, “I’ve been the youngest one in my Sunday school class for 20 years,” LeAnn Monaghan said.
The discussion always seems to circle back to attracting new members.
“I think we’re good at being open and welcoming of new people,” DeBok said.
It’s a conversation that likely started clear back on Feb. 17, 1867.
Just like those eight charter members, “We’re strong in spirit,” Olhausen said.