- Associated Press - Sunday, June 24, 2018

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - Jane Widenor flips through the tattered black book filled with the names of hundreds of First Christian Church parishioners spanning eight decades.

The book is bittersweet for the 85-year-old Clarks Summit woman because it is one of the few mementos she has from the 185-year-old North Scranton church, which holds its final service Sunday. The church follows the teachings of the Disciples of Christ, a Protestant denomination.

Every milestone - birth, baptism, marriage and death - is documented in the ledger dating back to 1885. There is Laura Davis, a retired school teacher who ran the Sunday school for six decades. Members of the Watkins family, who devoted countless hours to volunteering. And, the 10 “Timothys,” who grew up to be ministers.

“It’s a wonderful record,” said Widenor, the church’s longtime treasurer. “It’s old and falling apart … but I’m so glad we have this.”

Established in 1833, the church appears to be the oldest in Scranton, according to the Lackawanna County Historical Society. Two books on the history of Lackawanna County and Scranton make reference to the first church built in 1934, in Providence, now known as North Scranton. However, it is not clear if they are referring to First Christian Church.

The church survived the tenure of 38 presidents, eight wars and the Great Depression, but not cultural changes that caused many to lose interest in organized religious services, said Rev. Charles Consagra, 68, the church’s part-time pastor for the past 15 years.

At one time, First Christian Church had hundreds of members. Today, there are about 50 parishioners with only 11 to 15 who regularly attend services, Widenor said.

“Many churches are experiencing the same problem - fewer and fewer people are attending church,” Consagra said. “Most of the people who came to the church were from the neighborhood. A lot of them have died and their children moved away.”

With mounting expenses and dwindling funds, the church’s board made the painful decision in January to close.

“You try to do the best you can with what you have, but all our savings are gone,” said Widenor. “We took a vote and we said we had to go.”

The church traces its origins to a small group that initially held services at a school house on Parker Street, its home for nearly 40 years, according to a 15-page history piece prepared in the 1970s, by Davis, who died in 2001, at age 96. In 1871, construction began on its current home on land parishioners William Moore and George Corey donated. The first service was held there on June 1, 1872.

The church holds communion each week and offers full immersion baptism, which typically occurs around ages 13 or 14.

In the early 1900s, the church baptized members in the Lackawanna River - a tradition Widenor is happy ended after the congregation built its existing sanctuary, which includes a baptistry tub.

“The Lackawanna River, until the last few years, was a dirty river,” Widenor said with a chuckle. “The people who lived in the ‘plot,’ as they called it, in lower Green Ridge, all their toilets would go into the river.”

Parishioner Glenda Cortese, 66, of North Scranton, joined her husband and his family in the church when she was 19. She still has the Bible she was given after being baptized at age 21.

“We wore a white robe and got down in the water. They dunk you a couple of times,” she said with a laugh. “They gave me a Bible after that. I was thrilled.”

Widenor has attended the church since she was 4. She and her late husband, James Widenor Jr., married there on Dec. 12, 1953, and raised three children. One son, James Widenor III, 60, of Peckville, still attends. Her other children, son, Eric, 52, lives in Colorado and daughter, Becky, 58, lives in France.

“It’s upsetting,” James Widenor said of the church’s closing. “I’ve been going here since I was a child.”

He and his mother said they take solace in knowing the sanctuary and adjacent parsonage will be put to good use.

The board agreed to donate both structures to the Lackawanna River Conservation Association, a nonprofit organization that promotes the restoration and conservation of the Lackawanna River.

The association recently relocated its offices to the parsonage. It expects to take possession of the church building after the final service is held.

Bernie McGurl, executive director of the conservation association, said the gift of the buildings is a “godsend” because the group learned early this year that it had to move from the Silkman House, 2006 N. Main Ave., a historic, former library building owned by the Scranton Public Library.

James Widenor said the church’s board was not sure what to do with its buildings. Some church members are friends with members of the conservation group. When they learned of its plight, the answer was obvious.

“It ended up being a coincidence, but it worked out really well,” he said. “I think it has a great future with the conservation association.”





Information from: The Times-Tribune, http://thetimes-tribune.com/

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