Personal history lives and breathes all around the octogenarian woman.
And 86-year-old Patty Nichalson can hardly separate the overlapping lines between her family of origin and her spiritual clan of nearly a century at what is now Sandy Hook United Methodist Church (sometimes referred to most recently only as Sandy Hook Church).
Her grandparents’ home that still stood until a few months ago at 15th and Union streets served as the first meeting place for the original body of believers under the name of the United Brethren Church of Columbus. And her mother and son turned over the first shovel of dirt for the current structure at 1610 Taylor Road in 1972.
So sentiment will reign on Sunday as she, a lifelong member, celebrates with others at the assembly’s 125th anniversary festivities beginning with a 10 a.m. outdoor service, followed by a light meal and unearthing of a 1992 time capsule.
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“I am so glad to have been a part of this,” Nichalson said, sitting in the church lobby after a recent service.
Her joy and laughter testify to such as she and friend Clarice Joslin, 80, one of the other more veteran members, trade stories over an hour. They reminisce about their mothers in the Willing Workers Sunday School Class of nearly 100 people, about warm fellowship over annual chicken-and-noodle dinners, and about teaching Bible lessons.
“I never got beyond the third grade,” Nichalson said with a laugh, jokingly referring to her students and not her own education.
Church member Mike Kistler remembers Joslin leading a popular catechism class 50 years ago.
“She ruled with an iron fist,” Kistler said with a grin.
In an age when statistics show that many Christians switch churches every few years, Joslin has remained one of the Sandy Hook faithful, save for a few years when she lived elsewhere. Ask her about such loyalty, and she will tell you that church members form her family.
She knows that national studies have shown that a large percentage of those leaving churches depart over a difference with a minister. But Joslin?
“I always figured that I have been here longer than they have,” she said, chuckling and referring to her attending since the age of 2. “And I also figured that they were not ever going to be the one to run me off.”
Nichalson recalled a church member checking on her regularly during her recent recuperation from a surgery. So she cannot imagine life without the support of her Sandy Hook peers.
Many of her friendships extended well beyond Sunday services and studies — and it mattered little if all went according to plan when a shared experience was the focus.
“A lot of us camped out together (at Columbus Youth Camp) for five years before we ever saw a dry weekend,” Nichalson said.
Plus, she recalled one Labor Day camping weekend more than 50 years ago in which temperatures dipped into the 30s overnight — and she had to make sure her 2-year-old remained warm enough.
These days, both Nichalson and Joslin understand times have changed, with some Christians in general taking a more relaxed view of church attendance and more.
“My kids never would have thought about missing Sunday School (years ago),” Nichalson said.
But she herself misses it these days only because she busies herself with visiting several shut-ins each Sunday, reminding them they are remembered and loved.
They each sometimes fret about the future of Christian churches in general at a time when they note people’s busy schedules and wonder how they make time to form bonds and friendships.
“You’ve got to have these relationships with one another in order for a church to survive,” Joslin said. “But I know a lot of other things can get in the way.”
They both understand that many people today are working longer hours, or being transferred more often in their jobs than in years past, for solid relationships to grow and thrive. And today’s younger churchgoers face other challenges.
Actually, one in particular.
“Anymore,” Nichalson said, “you won’t find very many people who have lived in only one place all their life.”
The United Brethren Church of Columbus was organized in 1892 at the home of Daniel and Rachel Lambert at 1468 Union St. with 12 charter members. Sandy Hook United Methodist Church traces its roots to these people.
The first church was erected in 1892 on the corner of 19th and Elms streets. The minister was the Rev. J.F. Reynolds.
In 1923, the congregation relocated to the corner of 17th Street and Home Avenue. Prior to the first service in the new church, the congregation walked from their current church to the new church. The new church was named Wertz Memorial United Brethren Church in honor of professor Samuel Wertz. In 1951, the United Brethren in Christ Conference merged with the Evangelical Church to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church.
In 1968, the Evangelical United Brethren Church voted to unite with the Methodist church to form the United Methodist Church. Also, around this time, there was talk of starting a mission church on the east side of Columbus.
Land where the current Sandy Hook United Methodist church is located was chosen, and ground breaking for a new church was Sept. 12, 1971. However, by this time, the congregation had decided to not start a second church, but to move the congregation to the new location and sell the church building at 17th and Home.
In accordance with tradition, on Nov. 24, 1972, the congregation left the church on 17th and Home and went by caravan to the new church at 1610 Taylor Road, its present location. In 1992, a time capsule was buried and people were invited to write letters to friends and family to be placed in the time capsule which was to be opened in 25 years.
What: Sandy Hook United Methodist Church’s celebration of its 125th anniversary.
When: Sunday. An outdoor worship service at 10 a.m. (weather permitting), followed by the celebration of the church’s heritage, the opening of a time capsule buried in 1992, a light meal and ice cream.
Where: 1610 Taylor Road in Columbus.