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Multi-ethnic center sought in Shepherdstown

June 19, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Christianity teaches people to be accepting of one another, but two area ministers wonder how that can progress when church congregations typically fall along racial lines.

"Why do we not love thy neighbor? Because we have not taken the time to understand our neighbor," said the Rev. Ernest Lyles, who is working to establish a multi-ethnic worship center in Shepherdstown.

It is hoped that ministers from local churches will come together at the new Interfaith Multi-Ethnic Center to develop ways of creating more ethnically diverse congregations, said Stan Jones, associate minister at Trinity Episcopal Church in Shepherdstown.

Although still in the planning stages, the center's programs could include poetry readings or other performaces by people from different ethnic backgrounds, Jones said.

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The events would be open to the public and churches in the area as a way to increase understanding and appreciation of different cultures, Jones and Lyles said.

The center will be located in a historic, 200-year-old church at the corner of Church and High streets. The two-story building served as the home for Lyles' church, Asbury United Methodist Church, before it moved to is current location on U.S. 480 in 1989.

The downtown church started as the Church of England, and housed Asbury's congregation between 1867 and 1989.

During the Civil War era, whites worshipped in the church in the mornings, and free blacks came there in the evenings to hold services, according to Lyles and Jones.

"Becuase of it's multi-ethnic background, that is what it is crying out for," Jones said.

The church needs considerable work, including a new roof and windows, said Georgia Lee McElhaney, who is also helping in the effort.

The church could be made useable with about $50,000 in renovations, but the costs could be upwards of $500,000 depending on what the group wants to do in the building, Jones said.

The church once had beautiful stained glass windows and an attractive steeple, which some people have expressed an interest in recreating.

A corporation will be set up to run the center, organizers said. The corporation will have representatives from different organizations in town, including the Shepherdstown Ministerial Association and the Historic Shepherdstown Commission, organizers said.

The group is planning a public meeting at Asbury United Methodist on June 24 to continue discussions about the new center.

The center could offer a variety of services, including cultural diversity training and ecumenical and interdenominational worship services, said Jones and Lyles.

It could also offer space to groups who do not have a place to worship in town, the ministers said.

For example, the Jewish community is growing in Shepherdstown and they now go to a synagogue in Hagerstown. They have expressed an interest in having a local place of worship, Jones said."It's just the world is changing, getting smaller, and becoming more diverse," Jones said.

Lyles said he would like to see the center reach out to the spiritual needs of Shepherd College students, such as offering them Sunday evening worship services.

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