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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 sees 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 at 504 Gouverneur St., 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, each 22 inches in diameter and about 22 feet long, “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, the Rev. Mr. Piatt said, church trustees hired Max Beggs Builders, Ogdensburg.

“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.

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

The wooden pillars, which were 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,” the Rev. Mr. Piatt said.

With the church’s congregation dwindling for several decades, the Rev. Mr. 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.”

Some examples of those connections are the church’s sharing parking spots with Morristown Central School and providing an early-release-time program — currently on Tuesdays for students in first through fourth grade. The church also has accommodated Women, Infants and Children program clinics, meetings of the Morristown Library board and various other community events.

The Rev. Mr. Piatt said he hopes the community will return the favor. 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 join the mission. “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.”

The Rev. Mr. 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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