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Faithful farewell

Mon., July 28, 2008

Wellpinit Presbyterian closes its doors

WELLPINIT, Wash. – With the joining of hands and the singing of “Blest Be the Tie That Binds,” the congregation of the Wellpinit Presbyterian Church concluded services Sunday for the last time.

Only 18 heard the final sermon of Pastor Jeff McCullough, who talked about the lessons of communion and the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. They sang the “Doxology,” too, and prayed for the health of an ailing member of the congregation.

Churches, McCullough said, exist for worship, fellowship, education and sharing. But on some recent Sundays, said longtime parishioner Phoebe Wynecoop, only two people sat in the brown-painted pews to partake of what McCullough called “the sweetness of fellow believers gathered together.”

Wynecoop, 99, was one of them. She was baptized in the old Spokane River Church, another in a succession of Presbyterian Churches that dated back to two congregations organized in 1882 – one in Wellpinit, the other in Deep Creek. The present church, which dates to 1960, replaced a building that, she said, “kind of rocked when the wind blew.”

Esther Anderson, another stalwart attendee, recalled the days when two Sunday services were held. Sometimes another service was held Wednesdays, when there also was choir practice and quilting. A 1954 photograph included in a church history shows 14 in choir dress.

Tuesdays were for Bible study. There were rummage sales and dinners.

Ann McCrae’s paternal grandfather, known only as Abraham, was the congregation’s first American Indian preacher. She said the church was important for its role in the community – the Spokane Tribal Council once held meetings there – but also for its families.

“We are the link to this ancient cemetery,” she said of the graveyard next door.

Jim and Charlene Sijohn stopped by after attending services at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, now the last in Wellpinit.

Jim Sijohn said when he was a child, his family would go to the Presbyterian church for the singing and Christian stories.

Everyone would shake hands afterward, he said, then go to the Catholic church for midnight mass.

“It was a beautiful gathering within this community,” Sijohn said.

McCullough said he was asked to take the pulpit in Wellpinit temporarily – 12 years and three months ago. His tenure was the longest in the church’s history.

A member of Dishman Baptist Church in Spokane Valley, McCullough said he did not feel he should stop serving in Wellpinit until God gave him leave. Besides, he said, “Anytime I can preach the word of God, it’s fulfilling.”

McCullough said it was clear the church was fading. The congregation was aging. He presided at six funerals in one year.

The organ and upright piano that once accompanied the choir have been silent.

Still, he regrets its demise.

“It leaves a vacuum, and I’m concerned about what can fill the vacuum,” he said.

Wynecoop thanked those who attended the service. She, for one, will not forsake her spiritual home.

“It will still be open,” she said. “We can come in and have church anytime.”


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