There was a time when coupons were clipped, not scanned, and when people redeemed box tops rather than UPC codes for merchandise.

And there was a group of women at Wesley United Methodist Church who did both.

These, church council secretary Carolee Wharry recalled, were the “coupon ladies.”

“They would get together Tuesday mornings and they would clip out the coupons,” Wharry said. “Like Betty Crocker offered, for so many box tops, you could get tableware or free tablecloths or silverware. We still use the Nabisco Cracker tablecloths at picnics.

“Everyone would save their coupons and bring them in, and the ladies would cut them out and send in the box tops.”

The coupon ladies are part of a 130-year history at Wesley that will come to an end this weekend. Faced with declining membership and rising costs, the 1204 W. Washington St. house of worship will host its final service at 3 p.m. Sunday.

The closing is part of an initiative that could see all six of New Castle’s United Methodist churches become a single congregation within the next year or so. Although the other congregations have yet to vote on the concept and are awaiting further recommendations to be presented later this year, Wesley made the choice April 14 to close its doors and sell the building it has occupied since 1955.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and remaining members don’t expect their county counterparts to rush to follow suit.

“It’s hard,” Wharry said, “As a congregation, you don’t want to give up your church, your life, your (church) family.”

HISTORY

The Wesley United Church family, according to a church history, began in 1889 when First Methodist Church — then located in downtown New Castle — saw the need for a Methodist congregation on the West Side of town and started Wesley Methodist as a missionary venture.

Worshippers first met in “the little white schoolhouse” at the corner of West Washington and Round streets, but didn’t get their first full-time pastor until 1902. It was that same year when the growing church purchased property across Round Street and began to build a brick structure of its own, which it dedicated on April 5, 1903.

Original plans were to enlarge the building as the need arose, but in 1948, those plans were abandoned. Instead, the property was sold and the proceeds used to toward the purchase of 5 1/2 acres across West Washington Street, on which to a new church would be built.

The congregation began meeting in the basement on its new site on Sept. 5, 1954, and stayed there until the rest of the structure could be completed. The cornerstone was laid on Jan. 16, 1955, and the church was consecrated just over six months later on July 31, 1955.

In 1963, another cornerstone was put in place for the construction of an education wing.

Both cornerstones, Wharry said, contain items placed inside them at the time of construction, and the church is hoping to be able to open them before selling the property.

The original stone holds a Bible and a communion cup that was a relic of the church, among other items. Inside the 1963 stone are a copy of the New Castle News, church bulletins, a taped sermon, a building brochure, hymn book and a copy of the Methodist Book of Discipline.

MEMORIES

In addition to the coupon ladies, Wharry recalls annual church picnics at such venues as Scotland Meadows and Gaston parks, as well as the efforts of the United Methodist Women.

“They did bridal shows,” she said. “They’d have the younger kids dress up in the old bride’s dresses, and other mother-daughter banquet-type things. We had some of the dresses from the historical society, too.”

Pastor Bill Lavelle noted that the church used to have a softball field out back, and Stan Verneski — who started attending as a 3-year-old — recalled the vibrant ministry of Pastor Pat Albright from 1956-64.

“He was quite a minister,” Verneski said. “He was able to get the church moving. He could really get the membership doing something.”

Wharry noted that church membership during the Albright years was between 670 and 690. Recent Sunday morning attendance has averaged between 18 and 22 people.

Verenski also recalled a trip, led by Albright, that saw a group of the church’s children attend the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. There was one night, Verenski recalled, that made the excursion even more memorable.

“We got back to our hotel.” he said, “and we discovered we were missing one student. But we went right back and found him; he was still at the fair.”

Holidays also were a special time at Wesley.

“We used to do church decorating, way back,” said Janie Oglietti, who has taught the Wesley preschool for 14 years. “Each Sunday school class would have like a skit or a song they’d do on the stage for the Christmas program.

“We’d eat, then we’d have the program, then the best thing, everybody would bring an ornament, and we’d come upstairs and sing hymns and decorate the tree with the ornaments they brought.”

Oglietti also talked of a large and active youth group and kids club.

“We would do a lot of things,” she said. “One year, we all made soup — big kettles of soup — and we took the youth group down to Pittsburgh to one of the kitchens. The kids got to serve. That was something that really made a big impact on them.

“And we took them up to Epworth (United Methodist, on New Castle's East Side) to their food pantry. Our youth group kids would go up there all the time.”

Come Sunday, there will be one final memory to make at the church’s closing service. The 3 p.m. gathering will feature former pastors and the district superintendent. All members, past and present, are invited, as are all local people of faith.

“Come and support the people of Wesley Church,” Lavelle wrote in a press release, “who are going forth in faith and trust in the Lord for their future as new opportunities arise.”

d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com


(Note: The dates involving the building of the present church are taken from a history compiled by the Rev. Pat Albright during his time as pastor, 1956-64. A separate, undated history provided by the church reports that members met in the basement for six years, rather than 10 months, before the main part of the building was completed.) 


Editor

Dan, editor, started with The News in 1978 and spent 10 years as a sports writer. He's been a general assignment reporter, copy editor, paginator and Lifestyle editor. He's a '78 Slippery Rock University graduate with a B.A. in English.

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