Colliers Home to West Virginia’s Oldest Episcopal Church
By CASEY JUNKINS
COLLIERS — About 70 years before West Virginia statehood, the Rev. Joseph Doddridge founded what is today known as Olde St. John’s Episcopal Church along Eldersville Road in Brooke County.
From donating to various charities to enjoying annual festivals, the church is recognized as the oldest operational Episcopal church in the Mountain State. And church officials are not particularly picky when it comes to who attends services, or to whom they extend charity, according to longtime members Rich and Sandee Barber.
“The people here are very generous,” Sandee Barber said. “We do our best to help as many of those in need as we can.”
The church’s official mission statement is: “To provide hospitality and warm fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ to all who enter and to bring Christ to the community — and the community to Christ.”
“It’s a lot to live up to, but we do our best,” Rich Barber said.
According to church documents, the original structure opened in 1793, long before the Mountain State seceded from the Commonwealth of Virginia. The current building opened in 1849, which still predates the Civil War.
Though much has changed through the decades, the Barbers and the Rev. Philip Van Dam said the church maintains contemporary relevance while embracing history. They said there are about 60 members today.
Van Dam describes Olde St. John’s as “a church where you don’t have to leave your brain at the door.”
Van Dam said embracing locally sourced food is one way to help a community. In this spirit, the church holds its annual “Ramp Festival” every April. In some circles, these vegetables are known as spring onions or wild leeks, but those at the church prefer to call them ramps.
“Ramps are on menus in restaurants in New York and Chicago. They are very popular,” Van Dam said.
“We get them from the woods,” Sandee Barber said. “People come from all around to enjoy them.”
Also, the Barbers said charity is central to church members. The church donates money to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which treats children diagnosed with catastrophic diseases at no cost to their families.
For Thanksgiving, the church gives food baskets to less fortunate families. For Christmas, one family in need receives food and gifts on behalf of the church.
Also, the church works to fund a backpack food program for needy students at Colliers Primary School. The Barbers said this plan gives the students food to take home so they have something to eat on the weekend.
“Some people don’t realize how poor some of these kids really are,” Sandee Barber said.
“They can eat at school through the week, but may not get anything on the weekend,” her husband said. “That’s why we got involved in that.”
Through it all, Van Dam and the Barbers said keeping Jesus Christ at the forefront of their work is the core mission. Regular services take place at 11 a.m. every Sunday.