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Methodist Church Closes In Ashley

January 2, 2019

The historic Centenary United Methodist Church in Ashley has closed.

Members of the congregation said a mold problem forced the closing. The small congregation cannot afford to make the necessary repairs, the members said.

The Rev. Roger C. Noss Jr,. pastor of the Ashley church and of First United Methodist Church in Nanticoke, could not be reached for comment.

A brief notice in The Citizens’ Voice a few weeks ago advised that a soup sale at Centenary UM Church had been cancelled and congregation members were urged to attend services at the Nanticoke church.

Membership has been declining at churches of several faiths. The situation in United Methodist churches prompted development of a plan in 2015 to merge five Methodist Churches in the South Valley region of Luzerne County. That plan was shelved when members of the congregations of Nanticoke UMC and Ashley’s Centenary church voted “almost unanimously” against the proposed merger, members of the churches said, and that ended the talks.

Gerald Wolgemuth, media director for the Susquehanna Annual Conference of the UMC, confirmed at that time that merger talks were on hold.

Ashley Presbyterian Church membership has declined also. Informal talks were held by the Presbyterian and Methodist churches on merger, but to avail.

Also involved in the 2015 Methodist merger plan were Askam United Methodist Church in Hanover Twp., Calvary United Methodist Church in West Nanticoke and the Alden Station United Methodist Church, Newport Twp.

Under the merger plan, which was advanced by the conference’s Lewisburg District, all of the churches would have been closed and a new church would be created in an existing building in the Hanover Industrial Park.

Church members, asking that they not be identified, said dwindling congregations and financial support issues prompted the merger talks. The Nanticoke and Ashley churches were more financially stable than the other congregations and church-goers there opposed the merger and voted against it in balloting conducted by the UMC.

Wolgemuth affirmed the comments regarding smaller congregations and financial issues, noting that many churches have become “quite a burden” to sustain.

“This is not good stewardship,” he said.

Church closings and mergers have been commonplace in Northeast Pennsylvania in recent decades as population declines and population shifts have changed the religious landscape. One of the most historic involved First United Methodist Church of Kingston and Kingston Presbyterian Church which merged following the Agnes Flood of 1972 to create The Church of Christ Uniting, Sprague Avenue, Kingston. That church is very active in the community, including use of its kitchen by the Meals on Wheels program.

Wilkes-Barre’s largest Methodist Church, First UMC on North Franklin Street, closed in summer 2013. Its small congregation could not sustain the 16,000-square-foot property.

Many Catholic churches in the Scranton Diocese have closed. Towns that once had multiple parishes, most of which were created to serve ethnic groups, now have one parish. Nanticoke, for example, once had five parishes but mergers led to creation of St. Faustina Kowalska Parish. Plymouth parishes merged to create All Saints Parish. Catholic populations have grown in some areas, such as Mountain Top, and construction of new churches is necessary to accommodate larger congregations.

Closed churches and other buildings are being re-purposed.

The Jewish Community Alliance purchased a former supermarket on Third Avenue in Kingston, and it has been converted into a multi-use building and campus. The move to that building in 2019 will allow closing or sale of some properties, again a move brought on by declining membership numbers.

King’s College purchased the closed Memorial Presbyterian Church on North Street and is converting it into the new campus chapel and campus ministry offices.

The former St. Joseph’s Monastery on Northampton Street in Wilkes-Barre Twp. is now a craft brewery.

Ashley Centenary UM Church closing ends 208 years of services. The church began with services held in 1810 in a log cabin in the area that later became the Central Railroad of New Jersey repair shops.

For a number of years, Methodists shared worship space with the Ashley Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian Church traces its beginnings in Ashley to services conducted by the Rev. Cyrus Gildersleeve, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Wilkes-Barre, in 1821. He preached in homes and a barn. His son, William C. Gildersleeve, began a Sunday School in 1833 in a log cabin, likely the same log cabin used by the Methodists. The first Ashley Presbyterian Church opened in October, 1844, on the site of the present church, also on North Main Street.

The Methodist Church is believed to have been sponsor of the first Boy Scout troop in Luzerne County, Troop 1, which later became Troop 101.

Ashley also is home to a Roman Catholic church, St. Leo the Great/Holy Rosary. St. Leo’s dates to 1887. In October 2007, it welcomed parishioners from the closed Holy Rosary Church in the Newtown section of Hanover Twp., a parish that dated to 1900. The Holy Rosary building has since become a monastery of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The monastery is named after St. Davit Agmashenebeli.

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