150 years of worship

Published 11:12 pm Friday, April 2, 2010

The sanctuary at Suffolk Christian Church hasn’t changed much.

A person who attended the church in 1920 would still recognize it today if they walked in, the Rev. Michael Halley says. The gas lights are gone, and electric ones have taken their place. There is carpet on the floor, and there are cushions on the pews. The organ pipes have been replaced.

But, just like the church itself, the sanctuary has stood the test of time. The church exemplifies that this year, as it celebrates 150 years of ministry to the people of Suffolk.

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The church, located in the heart of downtown, is recognizing the occasion all year long with special events. The first observance will be a revival April 11-13 with Jon Cash.

Dr. William Brock Wellons founded the church in November 1860. The church has remained in the same spot at 216 N. Main St. the entire 150 years.

“Dr. Wellons was a great church planter,” said Halley, the current minister at the church. “He founded other churches in the area.”

Church records show that Suffolk Christian was received into the Christian Church Association at a meeting at Cypress Chapel Christian Church the same month it was founded. The Civil War, however, soon ended the church’s operations for about three years. Union forces occupying Suffolk used the town’s churches for hospitals and offices.

When the war ended, however, Wellons returned and started the church over.

The church’s membership numbers exploded under the Rev. William W. Staley, who was pastor of the church for 40 years and pastor emeritus for another 10 years, Halley said.

“He essentially was on the staff here for 50 years,” Halley said. “He was the one under whom our sanctuary was built.”

The next church leader Halley noted is the Rev. Robert Marr. He led the church from 1962 to 1985, guiding it through a time of great societal turmoil.

“It was a great 23 years,” said Marr, now 92 years old and still living in Suffolk. “It was a wonderful time for the church and for my family.”

Halley praised Marr’s leadership in an interview this week.

“During a time of societal turmoil, he provided good, steady leadership,” Halley said.

Halley has led the church for 14 years, helping to boost its many ministries. The church has a strong Sunday school, serves at the Salvation Army and offers free food on Tuesday afternoons for anyone who comes.

“I love ministry that’s simple,” Halley said. “You don’t have to qualify. You don’t have to prove anything. It’s a very pure, direct ministry.”

The church also fields a Relay for Life team and sends volunteers to Suffolk Meals on Wheels. It offers the Saints Alive ministry on Tuesday afternoons, where its older members gather to play cards, dominoes and pinochle.

The church’s youth department is known for its trip to migrant worker camps on the Eastern Shore each year.

“That has just energized and electrified our youth,” Halley said. “Kids come back transformed.”

Perhaps the most notable ministry at the church, however, is the music ministry.

“We have probably the best church music program in the city, if not the state,” Halley said, jokingly acknowledging that pride is a sin. “Since I didn’t have anything to do with it, I can say that.”

The church’s music ministry features adult’s and children’s handbell choirs, vocal choirs, a pipe organ and a grand piano.

“Our music staff has been here a long time,” Halley said.

Though the church’s membership has remained fairly steady in recent years, Halley is never satisfied, he said.

“A pastor is never satisfied,” Halley said. “If 100 people show up to an event, he or she wishes 110 came. We know there is a vast untapped population. It’s always in the back of our mind.”

In addition to the April 11-13 revival, the church will hold a picnic on July 4, and will have an anniversary celebration Nov. 6-7.

Halley said his time at the church has been a blessing.

“I’m just grateful to be a part of it,” he said.

For more information on the church, call 539-9182.