Majority of church members vote 'stay'

June 08, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Yellow half-sheets of paper handed out Saturday evening to members of Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown had two words printed on them: "Stay" and "Relocate."

Of the 92 people who voted, 64 circled "stay." Twenty-seven voted to relocate and one person abstained.

The Rev. John Ailstock cited drug dealing and prostitution in the area, along with limited parking, as reasons why relocation was being considered. An anonymous foundation was willing to contribute $1.2 million in matching funds if the church relocated and built a new place of worship, he told members of the congregation before the vote.

Ailstock asked that only active members of the church, which is at the corner of South Prospect and West Washington streets, vote. Nearly everyone in attendance cast a ballot. Ailstock said he could not vote.


Peter Wright, who joined the church in 1978, said he hopes the divisive vote does not affect the church's future.

"We need to move on in a positive fashion," Wright said. "Everyone is of like mind when it comes to our purpose, our mission.

"Maybe this is a lesson," he said. "Maybe this is a signal for all of us that we have a good thing. It creates an opportunity to bring us all together.

Before voting, several people stood and addressed the congregation. Some gave reasons why they believe the church should move while others were steadfast the church should remain.

Both sides presented valid arguments, Wright said.

"Nobody's right or wrong," he said.

Ailstock declined to comment afterward, other than to say, "The meeting speaks for itself. The people spoke for themselves."

Had the congregation voted to relocate, the church would have moved to the outskirts of town.

Built 127 years ago, the church has since seen its congregation decline 60 percent since 1950, Ailstock previously said.

While the votes were being counted in a back room, 13-year-old Carrissa Kesler walked to the microphone and addressed the crowd.

No matter what the results were, she asked everyone to attend today's church service, when she and four others will have their confirmation.

Loud applause greeted Kesler's request.

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