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Pillars of a community at Morristown’s United Methodist Church

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MORRISTOWN - The Rev. David C. Piatt says he honestly doesn’t know what the United Methodist Church means to the Morristown community - but he wants it to mean something.

“We’re struggling to find our place in the community and in our current culture, so that we can have a positive impact,” he said of his congregation, which currently features about 15 of its 45 members attending Sunday services regularly. “We want to be a benefit and a help, to find creative ways to support this community.”

In an effort to maintain the historical value and integrity of the 174-year-old church building, as well as to continue the church’s presence in the village, members have replaced four Georgian revival pillars across the church’s front entrance, said Jeffrey R. Swift, church trustee.

“Built in 1838, the church was originally the Presbyterian church until the congregation of the Presbyterian and Methodist merged into a federated Christian Church in 1952,” Mr. Swift said in a news release. “In 1967, the church became known as the United Methodist Church of Morristown. In 1982, the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites. A new fellowship hall was constructed in 1995 to replace and update the original annex.”

Town Historian Lorraine B. Bogardus was credited with providing the historical timeline of the church.

The church pillars, Mr. Swift said, at 22 inches in diameter and about 22 feet long each, “were actually trees that were hewn and shaved to create a straight, uniform column. They were then notched and tenoned into the beam structure of the building.”

Carrying the load of the steeple and bell tower, the pine pillars have slowly decayed over nearly two centuries to the point where church members deemed it necessary to replace them, along with a deteriorated concrete front porch. For close to $40,000, Rev. Piatt said, church trustees hired Max Beggs Builders, Morristown, to perform the work.

“He has been instrumental for us, in that he was also the general contractor for the Fellowship Hall built in 1995,” Mr. Swift said of Mr. Beggs, adding that he will be called upon in the future as the church beings the work of raising funds to replace the rotting floor system in the original structure.

“The estimate on picking up the original structure and replacing the beams is somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000,” Rev. Piatt said.

The wooden pillars, which were also completely rotted out, were replaced with fiberglass structural columns, and a new front porch was installed.

“When the weather breaks, they will finish the pillar trim and paint the pillars,” Rev. Piatt said.

With its congregation dwindling for several decades, Rev. Piatt said he hopes the new pillars will serve as a metaphor for the Morristown community.

“They are so visible and yet solid,” he said. “We, as a people, can become visible and solid on our faith of living for Christ, in that we can have a visible impact on our community. The pillars, as weight-bearing columns, represent safety.

We want folks to know the church is a safe place, whether they’re inside the building or just connecting with the church’s people.”

The UMC has been making connections with the community for years. Sharing parking spots with Morristown Central School and providing an early-release time program - currently on Tuesday s for students first through fourth grade - according to Rev. Piatt, are just two examples. He said the church has also accommodated Women, Infants and Children program clinics, meetings of the Morristown Library board, and various other community events.

He said he hopes the community will help in return. Rev. Piatt said the church has used up most of its resources on the pillar project.

“A number of CDs and investments that were set aside have been cashed in,” he said.

Mr. Swift encouraged the public to step forward and join the mission to restore the United Methodist Church to its former state.

“Although we are a dwindling congregation with limited funds, we continue to strive to preserve a piece of historical significance in this area, and to be a continuing presence in Morristown,” he said. “It is a significant struggle.”

Rev. Piatt put it a different way.

“We’ve been in town 174 years and want to be here another 174,” he said. “The good thing is the back addition can sustain a congregation.”

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