Ron Klopfanstein

Westmo keeps the faith alive in tiny hamlet of Lowell

Published May 16, 2018 at 4:00pm

On Feb. 29, 1960, Fred Bailey was up all night praying at Houghton College, in Allegheny County. “It was a life or death moment,” he recalled. “I knew I had to do something or my life would be an utter waste.”

In the 1950s, as an Air Force Intercept Operator with a top-secret clearance, he remembered going to the altar of the Southern Baptist Mission Church where he was stationed in Anchorage, Alaska and having his pastor ask him, “What do you feel God has called you to do?”

“Preach,” he had answered. “Then start preaching,” his pastor replied.

He then opened his Bible at random and landed on the passage where Moses replies to God’s call by saying that he will make himself available to serve. Fred flipped through the pages again and found himself staring at Jeremiah 1:7 “Don’t say you’re too young [The Lord said] if I tell you to go and speak to someone, then go!” He didn’t need to choose a third random passage. Those Bible verses about Moses and Jeremiah told him what he needed to do, but it wouldn’t be until that epiphany in the winter of 1960 that he felt born again and ready to go out and do it.

The “Great Meeting,” an interdenominational revival movement, took place in 1767 in Lancaster, Pa. A Mennonite preacher named Martin Boehm testified that his faith in the power of Jesus Christ had come to him while he was plowing a field. A German Reformed pastor from York, Pa. named Philip William Otterbein walked up to Boehm, embraced him and declared, “Wir sind Bruder!” or “We are brethren.”  That was the beginning of the Church of United Brethren in Christ. It flourished and grew because German-speaking pastors riding on horseback proclaimed the faith to German speaking believers, their brethren.

This was the faith tradition in which Bailey had been raised. When he was 16, a youth fellowship pastor had told him, “God has something special in mind for you,” and he had taken it to heart. After that long night of soul searching he knew he had to fully commit to that plan. “Once I was born again,” he told me, “I could open my mouth to pray and the words would come out. The Lord took over and the words came out.”

One of the first people to listen was a girl named Anne, who became his wife. They met after someone at his seminary had asked him 20 questions and had asked her 20 questions. The questions were designed to help them find suitable people to date and eventually marry.

They arranged for Anne to have three blind dates with three different young men. The first one “fizzled,” the second one was with Fred, and the third one she cancelled. After they were married, Anne’s mother revealed to her that before Anne was even born, she had prayed that her daughter would be a pastor’s wife. Fred and Anne had their first date on an Easter weekend, followed by a courtship that required Fred to drive from Quebec to Maine. Then they were married, and her mother’s prayers had been fulfilled.

The couple saw an advertisement saying “We need a pastor who has a wife that can play piano. No Pay. But all you can eat on Sundays.”  Fred was a pastor and Anne could play piano. So off they went to minister to the very conservative (practically Calvinistic) Plum Island where they held services in a building very soberly named, “Tax Payers Hall,” where “they had prayed out the dances, and were working on praying out the card games,” Fred recalled.

Anne and Fred have been married 54 years. They have three children and six grandchildren. This is the second time they have served the people of the town. In the 1980s, Fred was the pastor for the Westmoreland United Methodist Church across from the Village Green on Main Street and now he is pastor of the Lowell United Methodist Church.

At services last Sunday, I heard him speak of the concept of the “paraclete,” a Greek word for the Holy Spirit that means, “advocate or helper.” While people of his church worshipped together, shared communion, held hands and sang, and gathered afterward for coffee and conversations, the floor below them needed supporting, the roof needed new shingles, and other concerns called out for the Holy Spirit’s divine intervention.

Parishioners like Barbara Hodierne told me, “This is our home, we want to keep this church forever.” Anne pointed out that their spiritual home is 81-years-old and it needs help. They have volunteers to do the work, but they need donations to pay for the materials. The church’s treasurer, Kyle Eychner, is accepting donations by mail at 5763 Reber Road, Rome, N.Y. 13440 and they have set up a Go Fund Me account.

Small country churches like Lowell United Methodist have a special kind of warmth that comes from their determination and their history. I felt it, and I encourage anyone else who wants to feel it to attend one of their services on Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. The church’s vision statement describes them very accurately as a “beacon to the community [that is] open and welcoming to all.” This is echoed in their mission statement that describes how their congregation “values worshiping together,” and “reaching out to the community through fellowship.”

“God is with you all the time,” Wendy Grosjean, lay leader, Bible study teacher, and church board member, told me, “The Holy Spirit is within you.”

“If you are feeling weary,” Pastor Fred said in his sermon, “the Holy Spirit will come beside you and encourage you.” It’s been almost sixty years since the night he was born again, “I’m still keeping on. The Spirit encourages me to go on,” he said. It’s surely what encourages this sweet and determined country congregation to go on, but this little church still needs the assistance of its earthly friends and neighbors.

To help the Lowell United Methodist Church fund the repairs they need go to: www.gofundme.com/church-new-roof-and-floor. Services are every Sunday at 9:30 a.m., they can be found on Facebook by searching for Lowell United Methodist Church in Lowell, you can call Pastor Bailey at 315-430-2256, or email upliftingpastor@aol.com.

Ron Klopfanstein is a seventh generation Westmoreland native, president of the Westmoreland Historical Society, a board member of the Westmoreland Town Pool, and a 1stdegree Westmoreland Mason. He teaches English at Utica College and Mohawk Valley Community College. Like him at Facebook.com/BeMoreWestmo and Follow him at Twitter.com/BeMoreWestmo