Truth rings out in Pennsylvania; Antoinette Brown remembered
Written by Lee Foley
November 2003

Lee Foley

 Theft, contrition and forgiveness; it all played out over the summer in the area just northeast of State College, Pa. On the Sunday before Labor Day, the Rev. Lisa Grant of Trinity UCC in Hublersburg, Pa., showed up at nearby Egg Hill Church. With her was Trinity member 20-year-old Lucas Mulfinger, who came to apologize and offer payment to the Egg Hill congregation for stealing their church bell and the damage done when he heaved it out of the steeple early on July 4.

 This story comes from the Centre Daily Times of State College and reports neighbors heard a big crash and bang as the bell hit the ground, breaking its wheel and a small portico at the ground entrance to the church. According to the story, it didn't take long for police to get the bell back. It was recovered and returned to the church within two weeks and rehung by the end of the month.

Standing before the Egg Hill membership, Grant took Mulfinger's hand and said, "We came here today to apologize. He's nervous. We're very apologetic, also. It's hurt us and his whole family, too, just as it hurt you." Said the eloquent Mulfinger, as he handed over the check, "As far as I know, this is it. If it's not, if there's anything I can do, please let me know."

The paper reports Mulfinger's mother, who came to Egg Hill to watch his apology, is proud of her son. "This was his idea, he wanted to do it," she said. While the congregation accepted his apology and payment for damages, the case remains in the county legal system.

 People from a variety of denominations and faiths, as well as religious historians, gathered in Henrietta, N.Y., recently to mark the anniversary of the ordination of Antoinette Brown Blackwell. She was the first woman ordained in the United States in what would become the United Church of Christ, just over 100 years later. The Democrat and Chronicle, serving the Rochester area, covered the event.

Despite family efforts to dissuade her, Brown Blackwell was ordained in 1853. Today, one in eight members of the clergy is a female, according to the newspaper. The paper quoted Methodist Bishop Violet Fisher, "She's part of the rich history of women in ministry that needs to be captured." At each UCC General Synod, the Antoinette Brown Award is bestowed upon two clergywomen "whose ministries have exemplified advocacy for women and significant leadership in the parish, community or other church related institutions."

 I've got three short stories about church buildings for you this month:

 A congregation that welcomed George Washington, John Paul Jones and Daniel Webster to services is embarking on a $2 million restoration project. North Congregational UCC in Portsmouth, N.H., called North Church, was built in 1855, according to a story in the Portsmouth Herald. The congregation was founded in 1671, so it was an old church by the time George, John and Dan showed up.

 Restoration of Federated UCC in Middlefield, Conn., has uncovered a series of ornate patterns covering the church's original ceiling. According to a story from the Middletown Press, the patterns form a series of rectangular grids climbing up the peaked ceiling. The sides are adorned with curved shapes, like leaves. It's the artwork of the church's original builders.

Says Bill Bryan, chairman of the building committee, "It's older than anyone alive can remember." I would guess so: the church was built in 1834 and the ceiling covered over long ago.

Pastor Dale Azevedo told the paper, "The ceiling was really a joy to behold. It's really exciting to see how much care and love a small rural congregation put into this church over 150 years ago."

Unfortunately, damage to the ceiling is too severe to save it. However, Bryan's committee is trying to see if there is a way to reproduce the patterns on the new ceiling.

 From the Toledo (Ohio) Blade comes word that Sylvania (Ohio) UCC will be cutting its utility costs with the installation of a rooftop solar energy system. More than $34,000 of the $70,000 cost is being picked up by a grant from the State of Ohio. "The idea is to get really smart alternative energy projects out there," a spokesman for the state's development office tells the paper.

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