WOODSTOCK, Ohio - Tim Kemper couldn't help but grin as he pulled a rope to set the bell clanging atop Woodstock Community Church. "We all rang this bell as kids," the 56-year-old Kemper said, referring to local Lions Club members who recently gathered to discuss ongoing efforts to restore the 1895 building and find a congregation to fill it.
WOODSTOCK, Ohio — Tim Kemper couldn’t help but grin as he pulled a rope to set the bell clanging atop Woodstock Community Church.
“We all rang this bell as kids,” the 56-year-old Kemper said, referring to local Lions Club members who recently gathered to discuss ongoing efforts to restore the 1895 building and find a congregation to fill it.
The church, southwest of Marysville in rural Champaign County, has been a labor of love for the group.
Kemper, who lives just outside Woodstock, said he’s trying to preserve not only the church but also the memories it holds. Restoring the church also was a passion of his father, Monte Kemper, a local mail carrier who was 66 when he died in 1987.
“He loved this little town, and he wanted to see it continue to prosper, and his dying wish was to restore this church,” the son said. The community worked to save the church for a few years after the elder Kemper’s death, but the zeal faded over the next two decades before being reignited by the Lions Club about three years ago.
“We rejuvenated the project and have taken this building from an absolute shambles to what you see today, and we’re pretty proud of that,” Kemper said.
Charlie Cushman, 56, who lives north of the village, said about $10,000 donated upon Monte Kemper’s death had provided a “Band-Aid” to keep the building from total disrepair. When the Lions Club took over, a raccoon had taken up residence, a tree had pushed through the front door, the roof offered little protection from rain, and the floor was rutted with holes.
About $200,000 in donations later, plus countless contributions of labor and supplies, the church once again waits to welcome a congregation in the village of about 300 residents. Highlights include a new roof, a refurbished stone foundation, and refinished wood flooring and 120-year-old pews. The church also boasts two large stained-glass windows. One memorializes the 66th Ohio Volunteer Infantry that fought in the Civil War; the other was a gift from the Odd Fellows fraternal organization and carries the letters F, L and T to represent its motto: “Friendship, Love, Truth.”
But if the church is going to succeed, it must overcome the “monumental problem” of having no congregation and no money to hire a minister, said John Westfall, 83, whose grandfather and father ran a livestock auction in the village.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” said Westfall, who lives in nearby North Lewisburg. “We do want the church turned into a church and social mecca …. It’d be a hope for lots of people, that they do have a place to go, a shelter of some sort.”
The building last was the site of regular church services in 2010, when a small congregation rented the space. For now, it’s the site of concerts, weddings, showers, funerals, meetings and other events. A small kitchen is to be added this summer. An open house is set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Memorial Day, May 27, at the church, 202 W. Bennett St.
The current church replaced a building that was dedicated during a state convention of Universalists in 1844. When the new church was needed, members — most of them local farmers — needed just one week to pledge enough money to make it happen, said George West, 66, whose great-great-grandfather helped build the original church.
Kemper said the town thrived in the 1920s. Now, Kemper said, the church is the only building of historical significance.
Woodstock Mayor Jackie Hayes, 76, was married in the church in 1955 and took her children to services.
“We do have another small church in town, but there are many people that don’t go to church around here,” she said. “If we could get something started, I’m sure that there are many of us that would come here to church.”