Lawrencefield Parish Small But Strong


Staff Writer

WHEELING — At the crest of a hill along Table Rock Lane in Ohio County, a simple but impressive white church steeple reaches heavenward. On most Sundays, about 60 members of Lawrencefield Parish Church gather beneath that steeple in the Episcopal tradition of worship.

Born of humble beginnings in this rural setting, Lawrencefield originated with a small group of people meeting for worship on the premises of Mrs. Singleton (Mary) Paull’s Table Rock estate. The “Spit ‘n’ Whittle” shop, a former workshop of Mrs. Paull’s brother, John Sands, was converted into a chapel, where worship occurred formally for the first time on June 10, 1956.

Then known as Lawrencefield Chapel, the structure accommodated 40 people for Sunday morning services. The Rev. W. Carroll Thorn, rector of St. Luke’s Church on Wheeling Island, served Lawrencefield Chapel, eventually becoming its first rector. Sunday school classes were initially held in Mrs. Paull’s home.

About five years after the chapel opened, Mrs. Paull donated 6 acres of her property for the present church building. Ground was broken on June 3, 1962, and the first service was held on March 3, 1963.

Thorn was succeeded in 1987 by the Rev. Dr. Franklin Brookhart. In 2000, the chapel applied for parish status and has been known since then as Lawrencefield Parish Church. Brookhart left in 2003 to become bishop of Montana.

Since May 2006 and at present, the parish is served by the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Byers Walter. Services are held at 8 and 10 a.m. each Sunday.

Walter said the parish has maintained many of its traditions, however the congregation has simplified its mission statement into three words: Teach, preach, reach.

“We are a family-oriented congregation. We are small but we have great programs for all ages. We are small enough that everyone knows me, and I really value that,” Walter said.

Lawrencefield parishioners embrace the concept of serving the community in many ways. Church members help man the soup kitchen at St. Luke’s, participate in the Adopt-a-Highway program, and assist the with the clothes closet and food bank at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling and at St. Luke’s.

The church also has held successful rummage sales and provides room in the basement for karate classes. The church is offered to Ohio County as a polling place during elections, and church members are involved with Faith in Action programs. Walter offers adult education programs, and there currently is a small confirmation class.

St. Matthew’s, located on Chapline Street in downtown Wheeling, was the first and biggest Episcopal church in the area, and St. Luke’s served parishioners on Wheeling Island where many of the affluent families lived. When people began to move out of the downtown and the off the Island for rural areas of Ohio County, Lawrencefield was born.

“We are not a rich people’s church. We are regular people serving Jesus Christ … and we love each other,” Walter beamed.

Walter said there is nothing stuffy about the church, which works to make all who visit feel welcome.

“There is so much division in the world today. This is a place to model a different way of being. Despite political differences and views, we are still a family,” she added.

Walter describes services at the church as “traditional but spirited” sessions that allow for spontaneity.

“My highest priority is to maintain the Episcopal worship with beautiful, meaningful and accurate liturgy,” she said.

Walter said there is a strong presence of youth in the parish under the direction of Jennifer Duymich. When youngsters reach middle school, they are encourage to become acolytes and serve in that capacity.

“Jennifer does a great job. She is vibrant and very well-received by the children,” Walter added.

On its website, the church is described as “a family-oriented congregation with strong Episcopal tradition, committed to outreach and children’s education. One quarter of the congregation is comprised of children under the age of 18. Average Sunday attendance is 60 people divided between the two services. With God’s help, we seek to concentrate our energies toward growth in stewardship, membership, adult education, youth ministry, and of course, knowledge and love of the Lord.”

Walter said Lawrencefield has a wonderful staff that looks after the needs of the congregation and the physical surroundings of the lovely property.

For more information about the church and its programs, call 304-277-2353.