© Galax Gazette 2016. Printed with permission
GALAX, Va. (Jan. 6, 2016) -- The Glenwood United Methodist Church building, located on Coal Creek Road, dates back to around 1885. This is good for a sense of continuity and history, but bad for structural integrity: for years now, a downstairs wall has been in need of repair.
The building is still the original, said Glenwood member Mason Nester Sr. “I’ve heard there were several churches in there, including Quakers. I’m not sure if it was originally built as a Methodist church.”
He said that at one point in the distant past, horses and logs (as pivots) were used to turn the building around to face the opposite direction, for reasons that are unclear.
The wall that had become a hazard was erected about 90 years ago, Nester thinks, to accommodate a hand-dug basement when membership was expanding. Glenwood still only has two rooms: the sanctuary upstairs and the basement downstairs, where some Sunday school classes and more informal church gatherings are held.
“It’s just an old block wall, and it’s over 100 years old,” said the Rev. Gloria Rhudy. She said it’s been in bad shape “probably a long time. I don’t think the church really realized how much a repair was needed.” She said it was probably needed to be addressed – but wasn’t – for a good 50 years. It was visibly sagging and made several members uncomfortable.
“We had a Sunday school teacher who said, ‘I don’t like meeting down there with the children. I don’t feel safe,’” reported Rhudy.
Glenwood had about 24 members when Rhudy took over as pastor two and a half years ago. Under her leadership, the church has grown to 50 members. The church had plenty of able bodies and a building fund, but, as is often the way of things, the repairs got put off for one reason and another.
Rhudy said she had Carroll County Building Official Jim Whitten out to look at the church about a year ago. He agreed that the wall was in dire need of fixing. Still, though, nothing was done.
“I can come and pray over it, but believe me, I’m not the person to fix it,” Rhudy said.
Then the Dunns came to town.
Tom and Linda Dunn moved to Galax from Michigan. Tom was born in Danville and raised in Grundy. Linda is a lifelong Michigan native. Between the two of them they had a daughter in West Virginia and a son in North Carolina. Living in Galax put them at a perfect point between the two. Linda said they especially wanted to be close since their other children had passed away.
They came here in March 2015 and ended up having a big garage sale to unload some of their stuff. People came to shop, and several representatives of different churches came to invite the Dunns to attend. A couple came from Glenwood, and even Pastor Rhudy showed up and prayed with them in their yard. They decided to check out Glenwood UMC about a month ago.
“We visited it for three weeks in a row and said, ‘This is where we want to be,’” said Linda.
Nothing odd about that, on the surface, but Linda said that despite a 16-year marriage, “we’ve never attended church together until now.” Tom is a Pentecostal and Linda is United Methodist.
However, the denomination isn’t the point for them, as far as Glenwood is concerned. “We walked in the door and felt so loved and comforted -- all the things you’re supposed to feel when you’re in church,” said Linda.
After they decided to make Glenwood their home, their son-in-law, Larry Stollings, husband of their daughter in West Virginia, decided to move to Galax, and he stayed with them. Once he found out about Glenwood’s problem, according to Rhudy, “he came in and said, ‘I need work. I will fix this wall for $2,400.’”
Stollings said the church would need to buy the materials and supply labor, but this was nonetheless a major improvement over their last quote. Nester said the church had been told the year before by a professional contractor that the wall could be fixed for $15,000.
“Tom Dunn said he would do the work for free because it was his church,” noted Rhudy.
Right now, church members themselves are performing the bulk of the labor, which Rhudy described as mostly the men, while the church women cook and bring food.
Different members come to work and feed others each day. The work started on Dec. 9 and was estimated to be completed within two weeks. The cost is about $6,000 total.
Working on the project has been eye-opening about how imperiled the church actually was, Rhudy and Nester both agreed.
“They only put up an inside wall 90 years ago,” said Rhudy. “Rain slowly washed out the footers, and the space between the inside wall and outside wall was filling up with dirt.” They realized, she said, “if this wall goes, the whole sanctuary goes with it.”
In getting the process off the ground, Whitten had to come back out again. He took one look and said he’d get the permit dealt with right away, according to Rhudy. “He asked, ‘Why are you men standing around? It needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed now! One good rain or freeze and this wall’s going to go.’”
One major win, said Rhudy, was that he also agreed the church could put in a bathroom on the main sanctuary level of the church. The church currently has two bathrooms, but they are located in the basement.
The next morning they jacked up the church and started immediately taking out the inside and outside walls downstairs in the affected area.
“Once I started on that wall, taking it down – I guess they did the best they could with the limited resources they had, but we found a lot of problems, I guess because it was old,” said Nester. “The outer wall was almost floating over the dirt because of water erosion over the years. No one realized how bad it was.”
He continued, “One thing that amazed me was that once we had torn down that outer wall, there were hand-carved beams. You can see the axe marks. One of the logs was 40 feet long. To take an axe and make it square was a lot of work.”
The work progresses, though some unexpected things have turned up – there’s a spring under the pulpit, which, though some would call it spiritually significant, still needs a ditch dug and some plumbing workarounds to handle.
The thing everyone talks about, though, is how the Dunns’ coming seemed to be a catalyst for sudden change, one that has affected the church, the congregation and the Dunns themselves. If new wine needs new wineskins, as the New Testament says, then perhaps it’s a good analogy to draw between the Dunns and the repaired wall. There’s certainly no doubt among all concerned that a small miracle happened.
“It’s been quite an amazing thing for it to happen that quickly, but it did,” said Rhudy. “We’re grateful that God sent the right people exactly when we needed them.”
“It seems like [the wall] could have fell in at any moment,” wondered Nester.
“And everything came together all of a sudden. God let the church hold until they showed up.”
Linda Dunn concurred, “God sent us here for a reason and then he sent us to that church for a reason.”