“But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.”
-Psalm 77:11-12 (NLT)
Life in Portsmouth, Ohio in the late 1850s must have been interesting, to say the least. There were roughly 6,000 people calling this bustling river town home. Th steamboat industry was at its peak, which kept the riverfront area busy. The Ohio & Erie Canal, however, was on its last leg, having served the region since the late 1820s. Railroads were the new wave of the future, feeding off the local iron industry. These “Iron Horses” would soon connect Portsmouth to every other region of the country. Another railroad, the Underground Railroad, was already in full operation, and some of those being “transported” passed through Portsmouth on their way to freedom.
Politics and commerce were the main topics of conversation. The talk around town was constant and sometimes heated. Economically, business was good. Stores, shops, and markets were busy daily. Local farmers were thriving, due to the good soil and favorable weather conditions. Goods were being transported in and out of the area regularly. Banks were busy, and life was essentially stable. New homes were being constructed for the burgeoning population. Churches and schools had popped up around town and were busting at the seams.
Unfortunately, on the political side, things were somewhat chaotic. On the national stage, there was uproar over states’ rights, slavery, and westward expansion. Those same issues had found audiences in Portsmouth. People seemed to have opinions on every point of the spectrum. Most social gatherings included some debate … or bickering … on the aforementioned topics. In 1859, a young upstart from Illinois, who had recently lost his bid for a U.S. Senate seat, came to Ohio for a series of speeches. His listeners, including a few residents of Portsmouth, were enthralled by his oratory. Some were so impressed by him that they thought he should run for President in the upcoming election.
Something else happened in Portsmouth in 1859. A group of Christian believers, spiritual descendants of the Wesley Brothers and members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, felt God’s call to build a new worship facility north of town. They could see that the local population was growing in the vicinity, and that those folks needed to be reached for Christ. Thus, the Five Mile M.E. Church was built and dedicated to God’s glory. There were 36 original members, but growth continued through the end of the century. In 1882, the congregation changed the name to the Valley M.E. Church.
After World War I, the building fell into disrepair. The State condemned the building in 1923, and the railroad bought the property. The congregation bought land at the site of our current facility, and construction of the new worship building was completed in 1927.
I’ve shared this information with to bring everyone up to speed on the fact that this year, Valley UMC is celebrating 160 years of continuous ministry. That’s an amazing accomplishment, and one for which we all can share some pride. To that end, we will be having a formal recognition and celebration on Sunday, September 22nd. We are going to make a concerted effort to invite folks who worshiped with us in the past to join us for this glorious occasion. Our new District Superintendent, Rev. Calvin Alston, Jr., will come and join us that morning to preach. There will be special music, a dinner following the morning service, and some other activities in the afternoon. We intend to reach out to former pastors and invite them to come back and celebrate with us. All in all, it is going to be a great day of rejoicing, as we give thanks to God for those 36 wonderful souls who started it all in 1859, and as we seek God’s leading for the years to come. I truly hope that you will make you plans now to be with us on September 22nd. It’s going to be fantastic!