Sunday, August 21, 2022

Churches of the Silver Valley: Prayer Station, Wallace

(Part 11 in an ongoing series.)

Today is my daughter's birthday, and we're celebrating with a road trip, which means there was no Silver Valley church visit this weekend. But one of the first stops we made on our church tour, way back in June, was to the old Methodist Church building in Wallace.

The building itself dates to 1900, and it held on as a place of Methodist worship for 120 years before membership had dwindled to one elderly parishioner. In 2020, Methodist services came to an end, and the building was leased out to a nonsectarian Christian group known as the Prayer Station. 

That group, organized and led by Art Fleming, continues to meet there, keeping the old building's spiritual purpose alive. And they live up to their name: By the entrance, there's a box where you can drop your requests for the group to pray on.

When you go inside, you find that the old stained-glass windows are still intact, as is the pipe organ that dates to the very early years of the church. Even the old pews have been retained for seating. 

However, the Prayer Station's church service itself isn't formal or liturgical, as the surroundings may lead you to expect, but rather carried out in a relaxed and informal way that's characteristic of so many of the nondenominational and otherwise evangelical churches I've visited around the Valley. There are no vestments or pulpits, just folks in street clothes, with Mr. Fleming holding a microphone, and lyrics to the praise-and-worship songs that open the service visible to the congregation on a TV screen.

This is the view looking down at the front door. The church is laid out like a split-level house: When you step inside, you have to either go downstairs to the basement, or upstairs to the sanctuary. 

On the Sunday my kiddo and I visited, Mr. Fleming and his wife were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Spirits were high, and the small crowd of a dozen or so people listened on intently as he introduced a new series called "Footprints," examining what it means to follow Christ. A friend of Mr. Fleming's, Pastor Gordon Mills, led the discussion, which focused on Jesus' proclamation in John 8:31 that those who abide in his word are his disciples. The core of his talk was that we have to conform ourselves to Christ's words and internalize what they really mean, taking action on them rather than just passively memorizing verses and going through the motions. We have to conform ourselves to God, the pastor said, yet so often we do just the opposite, making God in our image, which prevents us from being passionate about our faith and letting it transform us inwardly. Those who are stuck in such a position, he said, don't know they're starving until they eat -- in other words, they don't know that they're spiritually famished until they dive in to the Word and allow it to work in their lives.

There were scattered amens from the crowd as people wrote in their notebooks and followed along in their dog-eared, bookmarked, highlighted Bibles. It struck me as I looked around the room that these were precisely the kind of folks Pastor Gordon wanted to see carrying out the faith -- deeply involved, engaged, and passionate about their beliefs.

I noticed when we came in for the service that evening that there were three weekly events posted on the entrance: the Sunday event we were at, an intimate Thursday prayer service, and a liturgically styled service on Wednesdays.

I was able to make it to the Thursday service a week or two later. It took place within a circle of chairs and sofas in a curtained-off nook adjacent to the sanctuary. Folks casually chatted with each other, as Mr. Fleming encouraged people to speak freely about any prayer requests they had. Some requests were personal for loved ones and family situations, and others were for the well-being of the local community. Mr. Fleming took notes during the meeting and led the group in prayer at its conclusion.

The Wednesday service was led by another fellow whose wife had just had a baby, so that meeting ended up being postponed for a while as the new parents had their hands full with other responsibilities. When I stopped by one Wednesday in mid-July at the posted meeting time to see if the service had resumed, the church doors were locked. I asked Mr. Fleming by email whether he knew when things would start up again, but I happened to catch him at an inopportune time, just when he'd lost his father. So I respectfully stepped back and gave him time to grieve. 

I have to assume the liturgical nature of the Wednesday service was the reason there were still Methodist hymnals in the pews. But I can't say for sure. 

All I know for certain is that, as of late July, any mention of the Wednesday service had been removed from the list of weekly services on the front door.

Whatever its fate, the fact remains that Mr. Fleming does a lot of good for the community. He runs the local food bank out of the Prayer Station, and I know he's been involved with the local Chamber of Commerce in the past. Other pastors I've chatted with during my Churches of the Silver Valley tour have known him and spoken highly of him.

He said during the Sunday service I attended that he had no interest in competing with any other church in the Valley, which led me to believe that the Prayer Station is purely a project of love for him, a way for him to meet the spiritual needs of the people who live here. 

In the process of doing so, he's keeping a lovely old Wallace place of worship alive. Everybody wins. 

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