ROCK CAVE – Passersby might miss the bright white church if they travel too quickly through the community of Rock Cave.
But the idyllic-looking building – the former Rock Cave United Methodist Church – is perched on a hill to the left, just after the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department if you’re traveling south.
For decades and decades, it served as the home church of Rock Cave and surrounding Methodists, but in July, the property, owned by the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, was transferred free of charge to the Upshur Parish Cooperative House and Crosslines. After the completion of several repairs, it will function as a southern headquarters for the Upshur Parish House.
The congregation had been gradually dwindling for decades, but over the past four years, that decline picked up speed, leaving only three women — Samanna Peck, Elaine Cool and Brenda Chidester – and their pastor, Dr. Rebecca Swisher.
Peck has been a member since 1995, shortly after moving from Berea, Ohio, with her late husband.
“You’re looking at our church – all three of us,” she said on an October afternoon in her living room. “We did have five members, but one person got sick, and another person changed churches, and then all three of our husbands died within the past four years, and they were active – they were faithful – and now they’re all three gone, so we don’t have the muscle they had [to maintain it].”
Cool said her late husband, Frank, was a builder by trade and had installed a new roof, new siding, and new windows and knew how to fix the heating and cooling system. Cool’s husband died in August 2019, Peck’s in October 2019 and Chidester’s several years prior.
“When all of that faded out of the picture, it really made a difference,” Cool said. “We had had maybe six or seven people going at the time, and then someone got sick or moved away, and it ended up just the three of us.”
It was no longer feasible to remain open, so after conversations between officials with the Parish House, the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and the women, the deed was transferred to the Upshur Parish House in July 2023.
“We didn’t want to sell it to somebody who would develop it as a commercial property – someone who would tear it down and rebuild and put a restaurant in or something,” Peck explained. “Instead, it’s still serving the community, and I think all of us were comfortable with that.”
Around the same time, the Rock Cave church was losing parishioners, Isaac Casto, executive of the Upshur Cooperative Parish, said the Parish House board of directors had been brainstorming about how they could reach more neighbors in need of services.
“When I started part-time with the bookkeeping in March of 2022, they were already in the middle of a strategic planning process,” he said. “One thing that came up during that was access to the Parish House. We have a very solid footprint here on College Avenue, and people know to come here, but we can also be doing more out in the community.”
“Transportation was one of the major hurdles that we’ve talked about,” Casto added.
When the Parish House’s special backpack distribution at the Banks District Fire Department was successful, it seemed like placing a satellite office in southern Upshur County was – quite literally – the way to go, Casto said.
The church is about half the size of the Parish House’s first floor and is comprised of an original one-room chapel and an addition that was constructed in the 1980s that incorporates a Fellowship Center, a couple of classrooms and bathrooms.
“We were invited to come take a look at the property, and there’s just so much potential there for what we could do,” he said. “Obviously, we can do our Help Desk or what we call Crosslines assistance. We can have a food pantry out there, and then there’s even more space for other potential programs or partnerships with other groups to serve that community.”
Casto said the Parish House has already reached out to administrators at French Creek and Rock Cave elementary schools to get a better grasp on needs in the area and how the entities could collaborate.
“We may begin with just one afternoon a week and see what the demand is like,” he said.
Peck, Cool and Chidester, the remaining congregants, now attend Frenchton Community Church, where Swisher serves as pastor, and it’s only 2 or 3 miles away from their homes, they said. In fact, they can attend more often. As the congregation dwindled at the Rock Cave church, worship services took place just twice a month there, but services are scheduled every Sunday in Frenchton.
Peck will always think of Rock Cave United Methodist Church as a comfortable home base.
“Years ago, the church was the social center,” she said. “Everything was geared around the church. I really feel like that church was the social activity for people – that and school. It was our community church, and it was just comfortable. People were comfortable to be around.”
As far as a timeline goes, Casto said there’s some maintenance that needs to be completed on the building, but he’s hoping to have the satellite office open by late fall or early winter, depending on the weather and contractor availability.
“I don’t think it’s an end for Rock Cave United Methodist Church; I think it’s just a new way to do outreach and serve the community,” he said.
Peck, Cool and Chidester agreed.
“It’s still going to be serving the community, and that was what was important to the three of us,” Peck said.
Chidester said she trusted the Parish House had the funds for proper upkeep, and Cool said she was grateful the opportunity arose.
“We were thankful when that option came up,” she said. “We really were.”