By Jasmine Willis
WAYLAND — The thunderous flames meant to consume the house of worship that one winters morning, but it was by saving grace the flames stopped at Jesus’ feet.
There are two stories when you think of St. Paul’s Church in Wayland. The story before the fire, and everything that happened afterwards.
In 2010 Lighthouse Wesleyan Church took over this historic building, and those who called the church home for nearly 100 years went on to St. Peter’s Church in Perkinsville.
It will cost a large amount of money to protect the historic Jesus’ stained-glass window, so the church is doing a fundraiser. The fundraiser to save the Jesus’ window is Sept. 14 from noon to 4 p.m. at Lighthouse Wesleyan Church. There will be tours given of the church and a pulled-pork dinner. Tickets for the dinner are $10 per-adult, and $6 for children eight and under.
The story starts with one of our earliest congregations; founded by those of German birth who came together in 1836. This church was called German Evangelical Protestant Church, and they met in a one room schoolhouse in Perkinsville until 1846. The church goers were mostly poor farmers and found they were always struggling to keep it going. Eventually, the God-fearing people would flourish, and the church would spread throughout Wayland and Dansville. With this blessing the villages began to thrive.
With the ever-expanding congregation at St. Peter’s Church in Perkinsville it was determined a new church was needed in Wayland.
Pastor Henry Noehren and his flock formed the new church on Jan. 11, 1915 and they held services at the Christian Advent Church on Fremont Street. There were 32 devote members who signed on to form the new church they wanted to build.
Pastor Noehren was the first pastor, his wife the first organist, and soon after Mrs. Willard Deitzel took over. Mary Foltz took over music worship for many years. Florence Folts helped with music worship in Sunday School. William Foltz taught Men’s Bible Class. Welcome Bible Class was for ladies only. Willing Workers was a class for the youth.
St. Paul’s Church got its name a month after the church was formed. The congregation planned their own house of worship in 1916. A lot was purchased on the corner of Lackawanna Street by Mr. and Mrs. George Wearkley for $300, and Max Charles Price of Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey came up with the blueprints.
The foundation of this historic church began in 1917, services were held in the basement until completion. Men, women, and children helped bring materials such as cement blocks, and others as need to help build the church. This was also wartime so that was on the hearts and minds of the people. Since this was swamp land they filled up the foundation with everything from tin cans, ashes, to anything they could find. The cornerstone marks the foundation on July 1, 1917 by Ladies Aid which also purchased a window and kitchen. They opened their doors in 1918 even though they weren’t finished. The services continued in the basement.
The dedication of St. Paul’s Church was Nov. 19, 1922. Rev. Paul Frohne gave the special service. Mary Foltz gave the special music prelude. Rev. Henry Noehren was back to honor the special day with a message from his heart.
Rev. Frederick Duhl is remembered as one of the nicest pastors. He was there from 1924 to 1945.
In 1958 tragedy would overcome this small community in an unimaginable way. St. Pauls United Church of Christ, as it was called at the time, had a large sum of money from the Rev. John Hartman Estate go to a new furnace. On Dec. 14, 1958 a sermon was given by Rev. Frohne. This sermon was about how the church had spent all their money paying off debts. On Dec. 15 at 4 a.m. the southside of the church had been seen engulfed in flames.
According to local news reports of the time a state trooper saw the flames on his regular route. He reported it to the Wayland Fire Department who called in help from South Dansville, Dansville, and Atlanta to stop the fire. It took them four hours to battle the blaze, which did $100,000 worth of damage.
The true miracle came with the beloved stained-glass window of Jesus holding the lamb being saved in the fire. It appeared the fire stopped right at Jesus’ feet. This gave the devastated congregation the faith they needed to rebuild.
All that was left was the wall with the Jesus’ window and the belfry. Within a year the church began to rise from the ashes. The community came to their aid with wisdom, compassion, and understanding. Evangelical United Brethren Church and Woodcroftery held services for them until it could be rebuilt. When Woodcroferty, which was Wayland High School, was burned down, it would come to St. Paul’s Church for help. The church would let them have classes in their building until it was rebuilt. Jordan Construction Company and John Wright were hired to rebuild the church in 1959. The largest contributor to donating to the church at the time was Howard Gunlocke.
On Sept. 6, 1959 the church was rededicated with greater glory, new pews, donated hymnals and Bibles, and an even more faithful congregation.
Mary Deitzel provided our special music this time, Rev. Frohne gave the special service, and Rev. Frederick Duhl gave a special message from his heart.
Pastors Rob and Cheryl Parker would make this church their home on Christmas Eve in 2010. It will cost a large amount of money to protect the Jesus’ stained-glass window, so the church is doing a fundraiser.
“We want people to come and share their stories of the church with us,” Cheryl said. “We have a good relationship with them. We want them to see what we have done.”
“The doors to this church have never closed,” Rob said. “The Word of God has never stopped being told here. This is a community thing they all started here. It has always part of the church’s history. We still have that tradition with AA Meetings, Food Pantry, Boy Scouts, and a connection to Wayland Central School.”
The Parker’s had their own history with starting in his mother’s home in Howard, other family homes, going to Punky Hollow, Springwater American Legion, Springwater Fire Department, and Wayland Central School. They started their worship in 2003. It took them until 2010 to find a home inside the old St. Paul’s Church.
Another amazing find in the church is an original Bible from the congregation. Research shows this kind of Holy Bible with the Jesus and Lamb image was only in print from 1901 to 1929. It survived the fire and was a family heirloom to Olivia Kinney. Research shows Olivia Kinney passed away In Florida last year after moving there in 1968.
The thunderous flames threatened to destroy the soul of a congregation, but instead it ignited them into a faithful community that continues to grow and enrich others.
Lighthouse Wesleyan Church is located at 101 S. Lackawanna St. in Wayland. They have church service on Sunday at 10 a.m. They can be reached at 585-728-5005.