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Lutheran churches come together to celebrate church addition, survive COVID-19

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Nov 6, 2020

The 2020 addition on the back of the church was blended to appear as if it had always been part of the original church building, built in 1856. Toni Milbourne

UVILLA — Shepherdstown’s St. Peter’s Lutheran Church congregation has spent the past eight months of the COVID-19 Pandemic continuing to worship, by holding socially distanced services with the congregation of St. James Lutheran Church, outside of St. James’ building in Uvilla. On Sunday, the two congregations once again gathered together to hold their regular worship service, with the addition of a celebration following that service.

In Aug. 2019, St. James Lutheran church held a groundbreaking ceremony for an addition to its current building. That addition was recently completed, and will be ready for use whenever the congregations resume holding services indoors.

The church proper was constructed in 1856 and offered no restrooms within its walls. Church members have had to walk to the fellowship hall, connected via sidewalk to the church itself.

Edwin Fitzpatrick, one of the members of the church who helped oversee the addition project, said the church now has two bathrooms, a classroom space and vestibule.

Despite overcast skies and the threat of rainy weather, many members gathered in the cemetery for the outdoor morning service.

Retired Pastor Fred Soltow returned for the dedication of the church addition at St. James Lutheran Church in Uvilla. Toni Milbourne

Joining in the celebration was former pastor, Fred Soltow, who is now retired. He shared that he remembered comparing the prospect of the addition to the 1989 movie with the theme, “If you build it they will come.”

“When I became pastor in 2001, I had a vision of St. James and St. Peter’s and of how they would grow. You all did not disappoint,” Soltow said.

According to Slow, he knew if people were to help grow St. James, a restroom would be a necessity. Discussions were held over the years about how to connect the church property to the neighboring property the church acquired. Obstacles to the project’s completion included differences of opinion on how to connect the two properties or how to consider enlarging the church.

“One obstacle included three gravesites,” Soltow said, mentioning the graves were separate from the cemetery proper.

“We researched, but couldn’t find out much about them,” Soltow said. The possibility existed that the family members wanted to be buried there but were not members of the Lutheran Church which prohibited them from being buried in the church cemetery. The graves were moved in 2009, however, so that the possibility of expanding the building could move forward.

“We dreamt, we thought, we had visions,” Soltow said, as he told of architect Sarah Lambert working on the fellowship hall project. Lambert did a wonderful job on that project and was instrumental in the church addition as well.

“It was a very careful job to maintain the architectural integrity of the historic church,” Fitzpatrick said, highlighting the continuity of the features that were incorporated into the addition. He showed the stain glass window in the new classroom that was created from the glass taken from the church window that was removed to accommodate the entrance to the addition.

“Sarah wanted it to have its own character,” Fitzpatrick said of the new portion of the church building. “The windows are square rather than arched as they are in the church.”

Pastor Karen Erskine-Valentine led the service of dedication that took place on All Saints Day.

“We are truly blessed by saints who have gone before us and chose to leave money for the upkeep of the church and this addition,” she said. “We go forth continuing their legacy, joining in the mission of Christ . . . to the glory of God.”