By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — We continue to find that St. Paul’s Methodist Church was strongly linked with the fortunes of Niagara Falls, but first we need to go a bit to 1948 and the time of the 25th anniversary and the booklet I have been referring to. We find that 97 groups within the church and several outside used its buildings. Some were Seventh Day Adventists, Band Girl Scouts, Commandery, DuPont Chorus and others. Some days there were 10 individual organizations utilizing the church buildings. Worship services were held every Sunday and the Thursday Lenten Services brought men of national and international eminence.
The kitchen was made available for all groups and it was overseen by the Women’s Society of Christian Service and the Boy Scouts had their own quarters in the basement. At the time of this writing, new windows were contemplated in the sanctuary. Plans for a new altar, new lights and other updates in the chapel were also in the works.
The collapse of the Schoellkopf power plant into the Niagara Gorge in 1956 was an economic disaster for local industry. When the Niagara Power project was built in Lewiston from 1958 to 1962 it was only a temporary reprieve for the area. Population continued to decline over the next 30 years as children left in search of employment and residents started to move to the suburbs.
St. Paul’s decided to follow suit and began a satellite ministry in the Lewiston area, called “St. Paul’s by the Meadows.” They first held meetings at Stella Niagara and then a social hall and office/classroom complex was completed at River Road and Pletcher Road in 1972. The planned sanctuary was never started.
I called friend and fellow volunteer with the Niagara Beautification Commission, Cal Babcock, who joined St. Paul’s in 1967, when he was appointed assistant pastor to the Rev. Donald Peck. Cal gave me some thoughts which I shall pass along.
He stated their “initial task was preparing for what was called the Uniting Conference in June of 1967. The conference included hosting representatives from over 200 area United Methodism churches as well as representatives from the Evangelical United Brethren Church. One objective of the conference was to join with other conferences to vote on a resolution to join our two denominations in unity. This led to renaming our church from The Methodist Church and Church of Evangelical United Brethren to United Methodist Church; the name that continues to this day.”
“The late 1960s were a time of tremendous change in our nation and for religion. We were still dealing with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. continued to raise issues of segregation in our cities and states until his assassination in 1968. Then the assassination of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, the Vietnam War which challenged the drafting of 18 year olds by the military and eventual withdrawing of troops from Vietnam, and the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion to name a few of the traumas faced by our citizens at that time.”
During the time of the Rev. Richard Closson and his Associate Pastor, the Rev, Douglas Wilson the attendance at Meadows increased. Later this area also lost population and both of St. Paul’s locations learned to retrench. The associate minister position was eliminated and Rev. Closson left the following year in December of 1977. Rev. Babcock served as Interim Pastor until March of 1978 as he had been appointed to the full-time position of director at Community Missions in Niagara Falls. He was followed by the Rev. James N. Brewster.
Separate identities of the congregations of the Meadows and St. Paul’s United led to the establishment of the Meadows as an independent congregation in 1979. Janet Babcock, wife of Rev. Babcock was appointed local pastor and served until the end of 1981. Linda Shisler Weidman became its full-time ordained pastor until 1987 when the Meadows members were unable to support a full-time pastor and Rev. Babcock returned, accepting the part time appointment as its pastor. Assisting for two years, retired pastor, the Rev. Kenneth Traxler saw that the faithful Meadows members were unable to sustain the church and it disbanded in 1991. The Meadows gifted its hymnals and an organ which now reside at St. Paul’s in memory of their valiant service of God.
Back at St. Paul’s, even though membership continued to decline during Rev. Brewster’s ministry (1978-1991) the church undertook several major renovations of its facilities. Work was performed on church stonework at great financial struggles. Rev. Brewster served as president of the Ecumenical Task Force which was formed to address the Love Canal controversy. Later, a retreat facility, St. Paul’s Center for Creation and Stewardship, was established offering ecological education as a direct outcome of that crisis. In 1990, Dr. David G. Meade came to St. Paul’s from his position at Houghton College follow by many others.
Rev. Babcock states” Given the magnificent cathedral church on Seventh Street, a final gesture of service to the community was made when church members arranged for the Potter’s House to assume ownership. Led by Dr. Stephen Booze and his wife Celestine, we rejoice ad give thanks for the renewed spiritual presence of their members in our beloved church and city.”
Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.