White Haven renovation is awe-inspiring to church family

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Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
White Haven UMC church members include: from left, Katie Lloyd, Jeanne Ewell, Joyce Jones, Gary Smith, Lin Spicer, Sheila Herbert, the Rev. Dr. Robert Kirkley, and Ed Lloyd.

CHURCH CREEK — Dazzling. Awe-inspiring. Serene. Those words describe the interior of the newly-renovated White Haven United Methodist Church in Church Creek. This small country church represents a slew of churches in Dorchester County that were organized in the late 1700s and have retained a devoted congregation through the centuries.

Land records from 1795 refer to the purchase of ½ acre for a Methodist Meeting House. Built in 1846 the current church stood between two “mighty oaks.” In 1908-09 the building was rebuilt inside and out. In 1916 it was renovated with a balcony and side stairways removed, the vestibule and bell tower moved to the side, and stained glass windows added. Renovations occurred in 1950 and periodically through the years. In 1995 a social hall was added.

The latest renovation began four years ago with a major push and in August 2015 the sanctuary was closed and services held in the social hall. The goal was to have the job completed in time for the Christmas Eve service. It was!

Trustees Chairman Lin Spicer credits contractor and church member Gary Smith. His impeccable attention to details during the major renovation resulted in a stunning end to the endeavor. From the minute he begins to describe the restoration journey it is obvious he not only knows what he is doing, he relishes it. No detail is too small to talk about. He described one wall that was upright only because of one stud, the siding, and plaster. “Everything else was rotted or pieced together,” he said, “and it had probably been like that for the last 100 years.”

Mr. Smith said before the de-construction began he took numerous photographs “so we’d know where to put things back.” After the paneling was removed as well as the plaster, painted lime green in 1908 and never changed, handmade lathes and nails were found. Signatures of workers and church members on the attic support beams gave the project a poignant historic perspective.

The original ceiling was a tall square and rounded during the last major renovation. Climbing up the steeple into the attic reveals the construction details. The bell was made in Baltimore in 1886 by a company that is still in business and it still peals.

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Special to Dorchester Banner/Courtesy of Jeanne Ewell The recent White Haven UMC renovation brought new life to the interior of an historic church.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Kirkley has been pastor since 2001 and his congregation thinks very highly of him. Joyce Jones, a church member since 1944, says “We’ve had Rev. Kirkley for 15 years. I just hope he lives forever. He’s mighty hard to beat in the pulpit.”

“This July,” he says, “I’ll begin my 69th year as a pastor under appointment by a Methodist Bishop. I just ‘street cornered’ and built my own church before that. Since I got out of seminary I’ve had three churches. I stayed at the first one for 24 years; next one for 23 years; and here for 15 years. I’m doing what I love and I love what I’m doing … touching people for Christ. That’s all that matters.”

“The best thing about this church is the people in it. They’re wonderful. The trustees are the physical caretakers of the property. It was their idea to totally renovate.”

Edwin Lloyd is chairman of the parsonage committee. Several years ago the church reached out to people who needed housing help and offered the parsonage. “The place ended up in such bad shape we asked a professional painter to get a figure on repairs and it was somewhere around $8,000 and that’s just on the inside,” says Mr. Lloyd. “I had the biggest dumpster possible and it was filled up.” That renovation project is next on the list.

A church stalwart, Sheila Herbert, is chairperson of the Administrative Board. She and her sister Donna Robinson provide music for the services. They play the piano and sing on alternate Sundays. She says “My mom started bringing me and my sister when we were babies. I’ve spent my whole life here.”

Church membership has fluctuated. Ms. Herbert describes a time “when the men’s Sunday school class took up the entire two back benches; and the ladies class was just as big. My aunt taught the teenagers and the whole area in back was her class. There were a lot of people. Over the years the attendance has gone down. People passed on; they moved away. Since Bob (Rev. Kirkley) has been here our attendance has really picked up. She notes “there used to be kids all over the place. It’s more a retirement community now.” Sunday services draw on average between 55-75 people and membership is about 100.

Ms. Herbert’s mother, Joyce Jones, is a Dorchester County native. She grew up in Bucktown, lived in Salem and Aireys, and Church Creek. She says she does not play the piano or sing but “I’m a good listener. I love music and we have so many talented people here.” The choir that sang in the 1940s is gone. “As people died out they had a youth choir.” Ms. Jones chuckles, “We’ve got a Sunday school teacher that’s been teaching since I came here.” She adds, “It’s been at least 73 years and she’s still doing an excellent job.”

Katie Lloyd joined the church when she was 16, but has attended since she was 2 – for 45 years. “My dad wouldn’t let me join until I knew what it meant. He said, ‘You’re not going to join when you’re 10 or 12 because you don’t know what you’re doing.’” She has served on many committees over the years and is the volunteer historian.

If you want to see church history in photographs, ask Sheila Herbert. Laughing, she says, “I come from a family of packrats.” She describes an event that borders on the miraculous. Church ladies used to make and sell quilt squares on which they embroidered a hub and a wheel. When all the spokes were sold the name of the person was embroidered on the wheel and the seller’s initials in the hub. “My aunt had it when her house burned. One of the first things I thought was ‘that coverlet’s gone.’ In digging through the ashes I found it in one of her closets on the floor. Everything had fallen in on it.” It was fine except for a few little, tiny scorch marks.

Perhaps Ms. Jones describes White Haven best. When she is asked “What does the church mean to you?” She says unhesitatingly, “A place of peace.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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