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Washington County church marks milestone

Hugh Coffman explains the significance of the handmade cross and stained glass windows at the Tunnel United Methodist Church. (Photo by Michele Newbanks)

MARIETTA — The congregation of the Tunnel United Methodist Church has been through many changes over the years, but they are celebrating a milestone. They have been in their current, and third, facility for 50 years.

Tunnel UMC is located behind Warren Elementary School on Ohio 550.

“The earlier two buildings were on the same spot. The first one burned and then the second one replaced it,” said Hugh Coffman, who joined the church in 1944 at age 12. “This would be the third.”

The first building was a complete loss and the second church was dedicated in 1923.

The congregation continued to worship in the second church while the larger third church was being built.

The second church was dedicated in 1923. It was torn down when the new building was constructed in 1969. (Photo Provided)

“What’s interesting is, all the stained glass windows were brought over from the second church and are in this building,” explained Sherry Coffman, a 55-year member of the church.

Sherry said the windows have names on them, which makes them special to the congregation.

“The other thing we brought over was the bell, which you pass as you walk in,” she added.

Sherry said when the church decided to build a new facility, they started the fund with just 30 pieces of silver. The fundraiser started the first Sunday in Lent and continued until Easter Sunday of 1967.

“In 1967, we were growing in the other church and we had a Bible study and decided to step out on faith and build and it started with the 30 pieces of silver at Easter time,” Sherry said. “Donations kept coming in and coming in. The bank loan for the building was only $30,000 and we’re talking 50 years ago. The loan was paid off within 10 years.”

The first Tunnel United Methodist Church was built in 1893 on a 100-square-foot site. It burned to the ground in 1922. (Photo Provided)

Ground was broken in 1969, and on March 29, 1970, Easter Sunday, they held their first service.

Over the last few years, membership has declined at Tunnel UMC, as it has with many churches.

“I think families aren’t having as many children as they used to and the children aren’t staying in the community,” Sherry said. “They are getting jobs and moving out of the area. It used to be that you’d stay here and all go to church together.”

Hugh said they were blessed to have a healthy, active church with people from all ages attending.

“Numbers aren’t everything,” Sherry said.

Although services are canceled for March 22, a 50th rededication ceremony is tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. March 29. Sherry said a decision hadn’t been made yet on whether to postpone it due to the coronavirus.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

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