Building on faith: Felton-Viola United Methodist Church campaigns for new building along Route 15

Members of Felton-Viola United Methodist Church are embracing a new journey as they look into ways to expand their support of the local community.

Rev. Sally Stewart is helping church volunteers lead the charge as they begin a capital campaign to raise funds for a new church building nearby on Canterbury Road, or Route 15.

“The congregation bought a property a number of years ago prior to my arrival with the intention of building a new facility. But, the economy changed and they had several pastoral changes which delayed the process,” she explained.

In 2018, however, the story evolved, and members felt it was time to look at the new property again. They voted to begin the capital campaign process.

“This church is in the heart of Felton. It’s over 150 years old. Times have changed and we need to change with it,” member Debbie Cadwallader said. “We bought the land out on 15 to build a new church and serve more in the community.”

Rev. Stewart and many of the members at the church will eagerly mention the various programs that find their ways through the church weekly aside from church functions, like scouting groups, an AVON club (the service organization), 4-H, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to name a few. Bible studies and three weekly church services also fill the halls of the church.

More room would help the church fill more community needs throughout the week, but there is limited space in downtown Felton for future growth.

Parking is also a grave concern for the church that currently only has a few spaces available behind the building. Many members have to rely on street parking. The Felton Fire Department has also offered parking space during services; however, that is several blocks away, and the walk can be trying for older members or those with younger children.

“People have said that parking is an issue, so they don’t go,” Rev. Stewart said.

The sanctuary itself, which rests on the second floor of the building, is also an obstacle, she contended. Although an elevator was installed in the 1950s, complete with a vintage scissor gate to close passengers inside for the ride, caskets and other church-related items cannot be taken upstairs to the sanctuary. Funerals were once held downstairs where a community clothes closet now exists.

“And once a month we feed between 60 and 100 seniors through the Food Bank of Delaware. During that time, our clothes closet is also open for anybody needing clothing. The clothes closet and the emergency food is open all the time by appointment. There are needs out there that we can help fulfill. But we need more space to do it,” Rev. Steward said.

The congregation finds its roots from the home of Andrew Purden when the Methodist Episcopal Church’s first bishop, Francis Asbury, created a Methodist society in 1779, according to Rev. Stewart.

“The community continued to worship at the Purden Farm until the construction of Purnell’s Chapel,” she wrote in a letter to her congregation. “Purnell’s Chapel was located about one half mile east of the current location of the church.”

The railroad which expanded to Harrington in 1856 brought new possibilities to nearby towns, like Felton. According to Rev. Stewart, worship was held in the freight depot of the Delaware Railroad at this time while plans were crafted for a new church building.

The cornerstone to the building which now holds the congregation of Felton-Viola United Methodist Church was laid June 26, 1860, “making it one of the first structures to be erected in the new town,” she continued.

“The first service at the current location was held on Nov. 11, 1860. The church has kept the faith through many challenges and traveled the area to keep pace with local development. Once again, it is time for us to step out in boldness and in faith to lead the way just as our ancestors did.”

The capital campaign will be needed to raise the more than $1.7M needed for the new building along Rt. 15. The cost covers a full-service capital campaign and architecture firm and the building itself with a sanctuary and fellowship hall.

The company, Church Development Services based out of Virginia, did a feasibility study for the congregation and are now working on the capital campaign portion of the process.

“They will also do the architectural renderings and the plans. They will coordinate, when we get to the point where we break ground, the construction of the building. It will be a turnkey operation including lighting, a sound package, pews and everything,” Rev. Stewart said.

In honor of this development, the congregation celebrated the history of ministry offered by the church in the past and the future yet to come during a special dinner just a week before the capital campaign began.

“We need better facilities to fit the need. We need updating. And our church is updated. We have updated ideas. Which, I think people might find amazing. And we welcome everybody, we truly do. Everybody has a gift to bring to the table. It doesn’t have to be money. Time and talents are important, too,” Ms. Cadwallader said. “We’re just trying to grow and fill the different community needs.”

Rev. Stewart added, “If God wants this to happen, then a way will be provided. But, if we don’t move toward it, nothing’s going to happen.”

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