Saturday, August 4, 2012

Blast from the Past - A Story of Two Churches - And People By Ilene Murray 1981

A Story Of Two Churches – And People
By Ilene Murray (1981)

At the corner of Custer and Park Streets in Mackay, Idaho there’s an old-fashioned wooden church bulletin board saying MACKAY COMMUNITY CHURCH.
The same sign when years after the Community Church words faded.

Alongside is a little white church with a tall steeple and bell tower. Though the doors are closed now, it holds fond memories for the people of the valley.

Just a few feet away there is a larger, more modern building – not white, but a friendly brown to blend in with the lawn and trees surrounding.

Strangers to the town might wonder “How come?”

In the old town of Houston, four miles from Mackay, various traveling evangelists held services in the valley in 1896; in 1898 a Reverend T.D. Saffel was appointed by the Methodist Church and served intermittently for a couple of years.

In 1901 Reverend J.L. Kendall was assigned to this field. The 1903-1904 Yearbook of the First Methodist Episcopal Church has this report:

“Rev. J.L. Kendall was assigned to this barren field a year ago. He went like Abraham of old, in at least two senses, viz., not knowing whither he went, and with horses and camp outfit. He found Houston on Saturday morning at 10 o’clock. His wife cooked dinner for the family over a campfire while he went in search of feed for his horses. That night they had secured an old house in which to live, had procured a hall in which to worship, and put up notices for services the next day, and thus began a most successful year…….”

“The following year Brother Kendall, following the rush of the new town of Mackay, four miles away, secured six fine lots from the promoters of the town, and erected a neat and commodious church, at a cost of $1,600.00. He had already bought a small house and moved it onto the lot adjoining the church as a home for the pastor. This was the second dwelling house in Mackay.

All the indebtedness, save $196.00, was cleared of during Brother Kendall’s pastorate. His work, however, was not wholly along material lines. He ministered faithfully, assisted by his good wife, to the spiritual needs of the people. The membership grew from 4 to 33, the pastor’s salary from nothing to $600.00. The present church property is a monument to their faithful endurance.”
 Inside the little white church circa 1967
The little white church has served the community well through the three quarters of a century since it was built. Many times there was no pastor available, but the Ladies Aid and the few faithful members remaining kept the Sunday School active and the church buildings maintained. By 1973 the congregation had so shrunk with the town that it was evident help was necessary to keep the church open.

The Village Missions was contacted and in June of that year Pastor Harold McGinnis was assigned by Village Missions Church Society to serve the church at Mackay. He and Joan, his wife, and the three children arrived that same month.

Transfer of ownership of the church property from the Methodist Church to Village Missions was completed in the summer of 1977.

Having an active, full-time pastorate at the church soon began to have a decided effect on the activities and membership. It began to be overcrowded. In 1977, after ownership was acquired, the idea for building a new church was germinated, and in November, 1980, the new church was completed and dedicated.

The old church will be left standing for the time being; it is one of the remaining landmarks in the town.

I wanted to learn the story of how the church outgrew the little white building and was replaced by the new building, which has an attractive vestibule, Sunday School rooms, a study, and full basement, as well as a much larger room for worship services; I had also learned they (Pastor McGinnis and wife, Joan) were moving soon to Beaver, Oregon.

I found Pastor McGinnis and his wife in the cheery study of the church, surrounded by packing boxes, books, and files which they were sorting.
Pastor Harold and Lois McGinnis. From the Challis Messenger October 8, 1981

I expressed my regret at their leaving, and asked if it wasn’t hard to leave their newly completed church. They did have mixed emotions, they said. However, they had asked to be moved nearer to his parents, who are getting old and both in poor health. He has had to leave several times in the past year to help them, and felt he should be closer. They are leaving many good associations here.

“What was your first impression of Mackay?” I asked.

He smiled. “I almost thought of going back. It was early spring. Everything was dirty and depressing, right after the snow melted. Joan didn’t come with me that first trip. The country was quite a change from Washington and Oregon, where we’d spent most of the past 18 years.”

“Then I talked with some of the people in town. They were friendly and said we could repair the parsonage, which they knew was in bad shape. I decided to unload the furniture and look it over.”

I asked Joan what her first impressions of her new home were.

“I was pleasantly surprised, “ she said. “Harold had painted quite a grim picture, but I didn’t think it was all that bad.”

They spent the first six months working on the parsonage. The upstairs was completely rebuilt. When they began it was quite a sight, with wood floors with the paint worn off; the ceiling was cheesecloth with wallpaper over it which had then been painted and repainted several times and was torn and hanging. This was the first project.

After that the rest of the whole parsonage has been redone. Electric baseboard heating was installed instead of the old wood stove; then a modern wood stove was added, as well as carpeting and storm windows. Joan has a decided knack for decorating, and the little old house is now very attractive as well as comfortable.

It was interesting to see how the church itself changed. Records showed that average attendance the previous year was 18. The church board agreed to give a portion of the salary, and Village Missions would supplement with $185.00 a month. The offering the first few months averaged $130.00, but before very long attendance and giving increased and in two and a half years the church became self-supporting and has remained so.

Bible Study groups were initiated for men and women. After a while attendance at these was sometimes greater than church attendance.

Sunday School didn’t grow quite so fast, but did increase, as did the Bible School and Youth Camps.

Three intern pastors have been trained; Chuck Barnett, who had been a member of the youth group in their church at Sumner Park, Washington and is now Pastor at the Challis Church; Jim Knight, who came from California and is now assigned to a church in Washington; and Darrell Jessup, now at his own church at Cottonwood, Idaho.

Several people from Arco had been coming to the Mackay church, and they asked if services could not be held there. Now Sunday evening services are held in the Episcopal Church Building in Arco, twenty eight miles away.

As the attendance and activities grew, the little church began to overflow. The children’s nursery was too close and disrupting sometimes; and there was no place for church dinners or other social activities. The pastor began toying with the idea of a new church in 1977. He got various plans and discussed building on to the old one. He was advised this would not be practical. He “doodled” for a month, talked with a draftsman-architect, and finally brought the subject before the Church Board of Directors. Their first reaction was “No way can we come up with a new building. Let’s not even think about it”…But think about it they did, Marvin Goddard agreed to be project chairman, and a basic plan was developed.

In July of 1978 ground was broken for the church and on November 9, 1980 the church was dedicated. “We now have a building worth about $300,000.00 which will cost only $110,000.00 or $115,000.00 when completed,” McGinnis said. “Only the shell was purchased, the rest was built as we had the money. We have never been broke, though we were down to $8.00 in the building fund one day. Miraculously, more money came in for the fund.”

A group of teenager volunteers came from Washington and spent two weeks working on the church. They boys did cement work and the girls did insulating. They paid their own expenses. They brought $25.00, which they all donated to the building fund when they left.

Later a group of retired men called Missionary Assistants came to help. These were carpenters, painters, and other craftsmen. They came from Washington and spent several days on finish work. The only work we had to hire done was sheet rocking. Mondays and Saturdays were workdays. Lunches were furnished by the ladies of the church.

“In retrospect, it sounds so easy”, the pastor said. “But there was a lot of thought, planning, and worry, especially the building committee. It could not have been done without the cooperation and dedication of those committee members, the Board, and all the members. People who were not members even helped with the work.”

“Joan, I know you haven’t been sitting idly by all these years,” I said. “What about your activities?”

“I’ve been church secretary and have quit or been fired several times but always went back to work in five minutes. It’s quite a heavy load, and I’ve tried to keep the church people always informed or what’s going on. I’ve been in charge of the music program. One of my biggest jobs is what I call coffee cup counseling. The women of the church often come to me with problems and I try to find answers for them in the Bible, over a cup of coffee or tea.”

“Our four children have pretty much grown up while we’ve been at Mackay. Eddie is at Vancouver, Washington, Larry and his wife at Salem, Oregon, Jeff at Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Joy is still at home with us.”

“Even though we thought the country looked desolate when we first came, we have grown to love it and the people in it, “ the Pastor said. “The mountains are beautiful and the people are the best of anywhere in the world.”

“Yes”, Joan said. “One thing stands out especially. When Jeff had his accident, there was a time when I had to be at the hospital with him. Church officials were coming for a meeting. When I came home tired and wondering how I could get things ready in time, the ladies of the church had cleaned my house, put clean sheets on the beds, and filled stove and refrigerator with food. I’ll never forget it.”

As I prepared to leave, I said “Do you have any more thought?”

“Yes,” the Pastor’s eyes twinkled. “I wish I could take this new study with me. It’s the best I’ve ever had in my years of ministry!”

By Ilene Murray with liberal use of 1903-1904 Yearbook of the Epsicopal-Methodist Church in Mackay, Idaho.

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