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Offer to buy Centenary was ‘unacceptable’

by Larry S. Chowning

Supervisors opt to stay out
of Centenary Church issue

The Middlesex County Board of Supervisors opted Tuesday to use the Founding Fathers’ creed of “separation of church and state” as a reason not to challenge a decision by the trustees of the Rappahannock District of the United Methodist Church to tear down Centenary Church in Saluda.

County administrator Charles Culley informed the board several people had called his office concerning the decision by the Rappahannock District to raze the landmark church near the courthouse complex.

“We don’t want them to tear it down,” said supervisor Kenneth W. Williams, “but I don’t think it’s our responsibility to tell them what to do. I think it is a [separation of] church and state thing.”

Fred Crittenden, a member of Clarksbury United Methodist Church in Hardyville, said if the Clarksbury congregation wanted to do something with its church, he would be very upset if the county were to get involved in the process.

Supervisor Jack Miller said, “Nobody on this board wants it torn down, but it’s none of our business. I think we should hang this aside and get on with our business.”

Culley said he felt that since there were so many citizens upset over the demolition plans, and the fact the church building is in the courthouse square, supervisors would not want it torn down. 

“All we are asking is that every effort be made by the Rappahannock District to save the structure,” said Culley. “We are not demanding them to do anything.”

Board chairman Robert Crump felt the county should take a stand on the issue. He noted the courthouse square is a historical landmark for the county and Centenary Church is a very “visible and significant part of the landmark.”

County attorney Mike Soberick said he felt it was not really a “church and state” issue if the supervisors recommended that the Rappahannock District trustees try to save the building.

Supervisors, however, made no motion to adopt a resolution or draft a letter on the Centenary issue.

Trustees of the Rappahannock District of the United Methodist Church attempted for about three years to find a solution as to what to do with the Centenary United Methodist Church building in Saluda, said trustees chairman Foster Lee of West Point this week. 

And, in June, the trustees decided to tear the church down, said Lee.

The church closed in 2006 when the congregation was so small that members could no longer meet its financial obligations. When the church closed, the central office of the Rappahannock District moved from Urbanna to the Centenary fellowship hall, which is next to the old church.

There have been at least two serious efforts by an individual and a group to purchase the church building. The most serious effort was put forth by the All Saints Anglican Church of Saluda. Barry Goodwin of the Anglican Church said his church has been looking for a worship facility—and Centenary would be ideal.

Last year, Anglican officials approached district Methodist officials about the possible purchase of the building. Goodwin said the small congregation of All Saints Anglicans offered $100,000 for the church.

Negotiations led to a structural inspection of the church by county building official David Selph, who determined the church had a structural problem and was in violation of Virginia Code.

Selph informed Methodist officials and Anglican leaders that he could not issue an occupancy permit until the structural damage was fixed. He also said an engineer needed to be secured to determine the amount of damage and the cost of fixing the problem.

Goodwin said he was informed that the Methodist Rappahannock District would not provide funds to hire an engineer, but was encouraged by the Methodist officials to pursue the matter. The Anglican group secured an engineer and, after an inspection, determined what structural damage there was in the roof area, he said.

The Anglicans secured a $27,248 bid from a contractor to fix the problem, said Goodwin. The Anglican group then made a counter offer of $72,752 to the Methodist trustees—$100,000 minus the $27,248 to fix the roof.

Offer unacceptable

As part of the agreement, the Anglicans also wanted to use the restrooms in the Methodist District Office on Sundays, said Goodwin. It was determined there is not enough land on the .27-acre plot to install a septic system, and there are no bathrooms inside the church itself.

Lee, however, said the trustees felt $72,752 was not enough money for the church building and use of the district office’s restrooms.

There also were discussions about the possibility of the county constructing a sewage treatment plant for the Saluda area, which would have allowed restrooms to be built inside the church, noted Lee. 

“I really didn’t agree with the [trustees’ decision], because I didn’t want the church torn down,” said Lee.

No member of the Rappa-hannock District Board of Trustees is from Middlesex.

“I’ve been working on this project for three years,” said Lee. “We didn’t know we had a structural problem three years ago [when the church closed]. We only found that out last year, and Barry Goodwin has done all he could have done to make this [agreement] happen.”

When asked if there were any other reasons the Methodist trustees rejected the Anglicans’ offer, Lee said, “There are some other things in the background that I would not want to be brought up in a newspaper. We did offer a counter proposal, but they (Anglicans) withdrew their offer, probably out of frustration,” Lee said.

Lee noted the District Methodist Office would be land-locked if the church parcel is sold, so “we asked about a right-of-way [across the back of the church property] to get to our parking lot. They (Anglicans) didn’t want to do that.

“It’s a tough situation,” Lee continued. “We have prayed about this and tried to work through it. I don’t think any of the trustees really want to see the church torn down.

“The Rappahannock District cannot afford to have the church stay there,” said Lee. “It would be a financial drain on us. This shouldn’t be a surprise to the people of Middlesex County because all the Methodist churches were alerted to the Centenary situation in June. 

“It’s got to hurt some people. I know it does,” said Lee. “That church has been there a long time.”

Other comments

Charles Bristow, a former member of Centenary and co-owner of Bristow-Faulkner Funeral Home, which borders the church property, is opposed to razing the church. “I have been interested in saving the church for some time, and I know that others in the Saluda area want to see it stay right there in the courthouse square,” he said. 

Sarah Cooleen of the “Preservation Virginia” group of Richmond said her office has been alerted to the situation. “I’m willing to work with the Methodists and anyone else in any way to keep the church from being torn down,” she said. 

“Our interest is to help with technical advice and to help facilitate a deal,” said Cooleen, who is the Revolving Fund Program Manager for Preservation Virginia. “I think it would be a real shame to lose a historical resource like this, especially one that’s right smack in a historical district. It’s really not making much sense to me and I’m hoping I can help.”

Selph said Methodist officials have not applied for a permit to raze the church but, if they do, it will be issued. “I don’t know of any [legal] reason to stop them,” he said.

posted 08.05.2009

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