Antelope Valley community cares for its house of worship

To walk into the sanctuary of the simple but elegant Antelope Valley United Methodist Church is to take a step back in time. The sun shines through the stained-glass windows, and the dignity of the altar area reminds visitors of the building's purpose. It is the essence of what a "country church" should be.

It was, however, a long and winding road for so many dedicated people to make this church a reality.

Beginning in the late 1850s, the Antelope Valley's religious needs were served by circuit-riding ministers, who held services in local homes. By the late 1800s, a small church had been built on a sage-covered slope above the Coleville cemetery. This was called the Pioneer Church, but it also was known as the "Cowboy Church," thanks to the valley's prime enterprise.

Elsie Chichester remembered attending the church in 1905 when buggies and wagons, loaded with families, came long distances for services. There were hitching posts in front of the building. By 1936, the little church had fallen into such disrepair from neglect that its owners, the Methodist Denomination, sold it to rancher Bruce Chichester. It was demolished, with the wood being sold for $300. After its demise, the Antelope Valley residents were without a real church.

Many parents wanted to be sure that their children continued to have a church upbringing, so they obtained the services of Deaconess Margaret from the Episcopal Church Mission in Yerington and Smith Valley. She came for church school during the week, as her Sundays were already full. A short time after that, and for several years, an Episcopal minister would come occasionally to hold services at the schoolhouse. Ultimately, there were some complaints about having religious services in the school, so they were held in various homes. A church was badly needed to serve the growing Antelope Valley population.

In late 1947, four prominent families met to discuss the possibility of building a church. They were Dr. and Mrs. Glen Copeland, Mr. and Mrs. Lee Wright Jr., Elsie Chichester, and Iva Ashurst. They called a valley-wide meeting to determine the residents' support for the idea. The consensus was to build a non-denominational church for all. Committees were formed for planning and fund-raising. Mrs. Chichester donated the building site, the valley residents donated their labor, and the wives served hot lunches to the workers. The building was completed in 1950, but the work wasn't done.

In trying to find a minister for services, committee members found it impossible to stay with their non-denominational community church idea. Several denominations were contacted, but none had a minister available, as they all had their own pastorates.

Finally, they reached an agreement to affiliate with the Methodist church.

In turn, the Methodists helped raise funds for this new church. Donations of about $9,000 were made through Methodist friends and the Methodist Missionary Fund.

When the group was ready to dedicate the new building, there was still a debt of $2,500. The Methodist church paid the necessary funds so the building could be dedicated debt-free. The church also donated the site of the old Pioneer Church to the community, as an addition to the Antelope Valley Cemetery.

More fundraising was needed for church furnishings. As they are today, Antelope Valley residents were regular customers of Carson Valley businesses, which contributed funds to the cause. Residents made drapes and altar cloths. The Antelope Valley Women's Club gave a water heater and electric stove and paid the utilities in return for use of the hall for their meetings and activities. It was also agreed that other denominations could use the church if they desired. Over time, several have taken advantage of that offer.

The Methodist church provided a minister for Sunday services. For many years these ministers came from Smith Valley or Gardnerville. When they were unable to come, longtime resident Dale Abbott served as lay minister.

Many improvements have taken place, especially in the last 20 years. Stained-glass windows were created by artist Donna Evans and dedicated in 1993. The windows commemorate church members and their favorite flowers. In the late 1990s, parishioners painted the exterior of the building, and the Methodist church sent a crew to replace the old roof with its present landmark red metal one. The Marines from the Mountain Warfare Training Center have helped paint.

In 2004, a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Marine base, which made the church its official place of worship. The Marines provide the pastor, who is the base chaplain, and provide the music for services. This made it possible for the congregation to do maintenance, repairs, and purchase a much-needed heating system. Three chaplains have served under the agreement, the Rev. Andrew Sholtes, the Rev. Jeffrey Quinn, and now the Rev. Wayne Hall.

Staunch members through the years have been Elsie Chichester, Iva Ashurst, Mary Portman and Dale Abbott. In addition to her financial generosity, Chichester did every conceivable chore at the church, including being the janitor for 20 years.

Ashurst solicited many of the original donations for the church building. Portman played the piano at every service and helped in other ways. Lay minister Abbott also provided much-needed other assistance. Many of the current members are continuing in their footsteps.

Although the church is officially affiliated with the Methodist church, people of other denominations play an active role in the membership, including participating in all committees and activities.

The joy of the Antelope Valley United Methodist Church is that it continues to be a church for this small community - serving longtime residents, newcomers, and Marines and their families- and a warm, friendly welcome extends from the little white church with the red roof.


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