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Grace Church celebrates 170 years of love, service community

T-L Photo/SHELLEY HANSON GRACE PRESBYTERIAN Church in Martins Ferry recently celebrated its 170th anniversary.

MARTINS FERRY — Grace Presbyterian Church of Martins Ferry is celebrating its 170th anniversary.

The church observed the anniversary during its July 24 service, followed by an evening concert featuring Mark King, a Martins Ferry native who is a performer at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

“It went pretty good. I think people are still gun shy about getting out (because of COVID). But I was pleased with it. It went well and we had a lot of fun,” said the Rev. William Webster, pastor of Grace Church. “Mark did a concert and it was a blast. He was quite an entertainer.”

As part of the anniversary celebration, the church also showed off its newly restored stained glass windows. The project involved cleaning and repairing the windows, casings and installing new protective coverings over the outside.

Webster said the church was founded in June 1851. The church building was constructed in 1852 and rebuilt in 1901.

The church continues to do outreach in the community with various ministries including hosting a youth center, providing free legal clinics, its clothesline ministry, free music concerts on Thursdays, school supply collection and donation, and more. A few years ago it helped establish a Grace Presbyterian Church in Pakistan after people there reached out to Webster.

“It started with five people and a translator. … Now it has 300 members,” he said.

Webster also does Bible readings and ministry with people in Kenya and India via Zoom.

“We’re here to offer gifts of hope and love,” he said.

What has made the church last, he believes, is its congregation.

“We have incredible leaders who are committed to the Lord and our ministries. Our church family works together,” he said. “When I got here they said, ‘We don’t take risks, we take challenges.’ They have such a positive attitude about everything.”

Webster said he has been the pastor at Grace for 34 years because of the people, whom he describes as “great and very loving.”

“I’ve lived here longer than anywhere in my life. It’s a great place to live,” he said.

Webster said he first learned of Martins Ferry while he was studying urban planning in New Jersey. He was assigned a city and a mayor to study with — the city of Martins Ferry and its then-mayor John Laslo. Webster’s life and education changed direction, and 10 years later he became pastor of Grace Church.

“God has a sense of humor,” Webster said. “God has a plan, you’ve just got to work it sometimes.”

Webster is looking forward to what the future holds for Grace.

“With the love we have for the community and each other, I’d love to see what happens in the next 170 years,” Webster said.

The building next to the church, Webster Hall, is used for various ministries. However, back in the 1880s it was used by the church as a hotel for pioneers heading west. They could rest overnight and get provisions in the city. After the demand for such accommodations declined, the church sold the building in 1901. Then about 100 years later it repurchased the building and continues to use it for its youth center and other ministries.

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