By Jasmine Willis
COHOCTON — It was a bittersweet ceremony as a beloved local church gave their final goodbyes to a place they all called home for many generations.
The Cohocton United Methodist Church stood its ground for 191 years. On March 27 at 2 p.m. the church bells rang for the last time. The faithful gathered to hear one last sermon. The pews were filled with the echoes of memories from days gone by. The piano played its final hymns. The stained-glass windows are time capsules for those who walked these halls long ago.
Rev. Jeff McDowell, Mountain View District superintendent gave the final sermon on “As The Spirit Moves” to the loyal congregation.
“We have to think of our life in Jesus Christ as a series of chapters, and realize that the entire book is God’s story. Paul quoted an Old Testament promise. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor has it ever entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him. You can pull it right out of the New Testament and apply it to your life. The heritage of faith in this place is strong,” he said. “I know this has always been a place of faith and faithfulness over the centuries of God’s people moving in this place. I chose scriptures talking about the Holy Spirit in the rebirth of a Christian church. The fact is God is always on the move. God is always at work within us to create something out of nothing.”
“We are here today not because a church is closing, but because we are followers of Jesus Christ. We are honoring the heritage of a place where footsteps have come and led us into this building. They have led us to the good news of Jesus Christ to be empowered people of God and share that news with all those around us,” McDowell continued.
Many were called to give testimony of the times they spent at the church, or what the church meant to their family.
“I grew up going to this church. All of my siblings, my parents, and my grandparents went to this church. All of us were baptized here. I got married to my wife (Jean) here. We had our 25 year and 50 year anniversary at this church. We raised our children in this church,” Larry Wise said. “We have a lot of good memories here. I saw a lot of the older folks here that we all learned a lot from growing up. Today was a hard day. It was a lot harder to say goodbye than I thought.”
Joyce McKeown had gone to the church for nearly 60 years. She recalls spending most of her life being involved in the church.
“I remember sitting in the same pew my great-grandfather sat at the whole time growing up. My mother always told me we had to sit in that pew, because my great-grandfather sat there. I never got to know him since he died before I was born,” she said. “I remember the history of this church. We had a Rev. John Beck who painted us a lovely mural. He left it for us in 1941. We have another mural that I remember always being part of the church since I was little.”
Sally Rogers talked about coming to the church her whole life with her brother, Larry Wise.
“I know a lot of people here today. I have been coming here with my brother Larry my whole life. It has been a lifetime of women, lifetime of men, lifetime of preachers and I have enjoyed coming here. We went to Wayland for three years. We went to Florida for a few years. But we ended up coming back here. This is our home. This is our church,” she said.
Millie Allen recalls raising her children in this church. She walked down the old aisles of the sanctuary growing up. It brought back wonderful memories for her to sit in the ancient pews one last time.
Her son, Mike Allen went from learning from his spiritual leaders at this church to becoming a pastor. He said the church taught him everything he needed to know growing up.
Allen said he was strongly influenced by the ministry of Rev. Schattner to becoming a minster. He has taught in many churches over the years. He is currently living in the old parish and is blessed to be carrying the torch.
The oldest member of the community and 56 year member of the church, Lois Zimmer celebrated her 100 year birthday within its walls in 1975. She had spent her entire life in Cohocton. She passed away in 1976. Her great-granddaughter, Jan Zimmer attended the last sermon to pay her respects to her family’s old church.
“My roots are firmly in Cohocton. Lois Zimmer called this church her home for many years. This was always her church. We had her 100 year birthday in the this church. I grew up with a lot of you here in Cohocton,” she said. “What I remember the most here are the social community dinners in the basement. I was amazed by the fellowship I would find here at the dinners. I have a lot of nice memories here.”
Ron Rogers gave a heartfelt speech at the end of everyone’s testimony about all those who came before us.
“Look at the stained-glass windows in this church. Look at all the names on them. These are the people who came before us. The Lord has touched them through this building. All of them are members of this church who have gone up to see our Lord. Some of them I know through ancestry. Some of them I don’t. We can look back and see all the people who walked through these halls before us. We know that one day we will see them again, and we can ask them about their experiences inside this church. We can ask them what happened here, and what they held onto. This church was placed here for a purpose, and it has gone on to touch so many lives. I haven’t been as involved as many who have spoken here. My wife (Sally) spent most of her life in this church. I used to listen to Rev. Schattner’s sermons a long time ago. The Holy Spirit was working on me back then. The Holy Spirit has touced me and brought me through many ministries in this church,” he said. “We have had so many things here. We had people celebrate their 100 year birthdays here. We had people move on to be with the Lord. We got down to just a handful left of those who grew up here. We all remember going to Lillian (Schattner’s) home for Bible Study. We had been struggling for years on what we were going to do. I had prayed for a revival to happen in this church for years. It was God’s will for us to close, and maybe another church will move in. We will all move on and get involved in other churches to help spread the gospel.”
Lillian Schattner was deeply touched by the outpouring of love for her late husband, Rev. Verne Schattner. She gave a final speech about her love for the loyal congregation.
“If these walls could speak they would rejoice in seeing us all here. God can take any situation and make something new. Thank you for all the kind words spoken here today. We appreciate all of your memories. It brings us all so much comfort to hear the joy and memories you all hold close. We have so many of them in this wonderful church,” she said. “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Don’t rely on your own insight. I am so thankful to be here with all of you once more.”
Rev. Edwin Jaqua said it was an honor to serve as preacher of the church for a little while. He got to know the people who made this church so beloved.
“These are a great bunch of people. They truly love the Lord. They have a heart for the Lord. I have preached at a lot of churches and I see the Spirit is moving here. They respond well to serving God and the community. I have confidence they will keep going in their faith somewhere else,” he said. “There was a church that closed its doors in Prattsburgh, and the very next Sunday it opened again with a new church. We may see God do something like that here.”
Rev. McDowell said the seeds planted at this church will keep growing.
“We went over a lot of testimony today. You saw that Mike Allen became a pastor after what he learned here. There are others who created a ministry out of this church. It is a great legacy. When a church closes its doors, it passes on that legacy to other churches. You never forget the heritage. I think it will see a rebirth and open again as a new church,” he said.
The church was formed in 1829, built in 1831, and dedicated on March 10, 1832. When it was built the church started out with 18 members. Before the faithful had a sanctuary they held services in the old Flint Farm that was owned by Lawrence VanWormer. The First Methodist Episcopal Church Society of Cohocton was formed in 1830, and they held meetings at the home of Caleb Crouch until the church was finished in 1831. Rev. Samuel Bibbins was the first minister recorded to give sermons at the newly formed church. Rev. Robert Brettle served from 1902 to 1905 and wrote the churches early history. Rev. J.H. Beck served only from 1941 to 1942, but he is forever remembered as the one who left behind a painting. A lovely shepherds mural remains in the basement of the church, and is a fond childhood memory to many who still called this church home.
Perhaps the most famous of all the past spiritual leaders who walked the halls of this holy ground was Rev. Verne Schattnerwho began his ministry in 1954. He served the church for nearly 40 years.
The old Holy Bibles and hymnals had dedications to several past church members printed on the inside to honor them. Members of the church were told they could take these family heirlooms home at the end of the sermon. The faithful gathered one last time in the basement to talk about childhood memories, weddings, funerals, baptisms, and the history before walking out the doors one final time. The church may have closed its doors, but the echoes of all the generations of churchgoers will remain within its walls.