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Church ceases holding services

October 16, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

First Brethren Church, which has occupied the corner of Antietam and Mulberry streets in Hagerstown for 110 years, has ceased holding Sunday worship services, although a deacon insists the church hasn't closed.

"There are still people in and out of the church," Don Smith said. "There are still meetings going on."

Contacted by telephone, Smith didn't want to comment on why the church no longer is holding services. As to the former First Brethren parishioners, Smith said "they can go to services wherever they want."

The congregation's pastor, the Rev. Larry Westcott, gave his last sermon there on Oct. 3, according to a letter received by Carolyn Martin, former church secretary and Sunday school superintendent. Martin resigned her paid secretarial position and her volunteer Sunday school duties in November 2003.

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"At that time, membership at First Brethren had gone from a high of 200 to between 20 and 25 people," said Martin, who now attends services at another church.

Martin said there still were children attending Sunday school when she resigned 11 months ago.

"I know that because they were kids my husband and I had brought in from the neighborhood and from Clear Spring, where my husband is from," she said.

Former First Brethren pastor Harold Barnett was saddened to learn that the church no longer was holding services.

"I'm shocked and disappointed and I suspect all the pastors who were there must be, too," Barnett said from Jackson, Ky., where he oversees a small congregation and teaches at Hazard Community and Technical College.

Barnett said he came back to Hagerstown this summer to baptize a baby at the invitation of a First Brethren member's family.

"There wasn't a pastor there that Sunday, I recall, and while I was there, I welcomed another new family into membership," Barnett said.

Barnett, 73, served First Brethren Church for 12 years beginning in 1979.

When he left Hagerstown in 1991, Barnett said membership at First Brethren had dropped from 125 to 112. Barnett was quoted then as saying that the church's location, unavailability of parking and abundance of renters in the neighborhood factored into the drop in attendance.

First Brethren Church was incorporated in January 1894, a year after a group of men established a place of worship at Joseph Emmert's Hardware Store. The current building was erected in 1912 on the same site of the original building, which was sold and moved to Smithsburg.

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