LEWISTOWN - Ellen Chapel Church was born to fill a vacancy in the Ferguson Valley.
For many years, a 13-mile stretch of the valley between Yeagertown and McVeytown did not have a church, making it hard for families to travel to a congregation by hoarse and carriage.
But the vision of two community members, F.G. Franciscus and Fannie Aurand, breached the void in November of 1886 when they expanded a union Sunday school program into the first church in the valley.
This photo from the early 20th century shows the original Ellen Chapel Church building.
Now, 125 years later, the church members hope to reach out to fill another empty spot in people's lives.
The church's anniversary celebration on Dec. 4 also will be a homecoming for people who have not been to church in a while or never attended, church Christian education director Becky Hussey said. There is a void in everyone's life that only God can fill, Hussey said.
"Lots of people are struggling ... This is an opportunity to find rest and relief," Hussey said. "We want them to see the benefits of being part of a church family."
For example, one of Ellen Chapel's members has been struggling with serious health issues, and the congregation reached out to the woman and her family through fundraisers, encouragement and more, Hussey said.
The theme verse for the homecoming service is Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
The Rev. Mark Hill said sometimes people just need a date to put on their calendar to motivate them to return to church.
The majority of Americans say they believe in God, but only about one third are active in a church, he said.
"There's a big difference there," Hill said. "This is an opportunity ... to come back, to say I want to intentionally make this part of my life."
He also encouraged people who have been a part of Ellen Chapel in the past to come back and visit the church as it celebrates its history.
The special events will begin with morning devotions at 9:30 a.m. The usual Sunday School hour will be abbreviated so that everyone can enjoy fellowship in the church hall with doughnuts, baked goods, juice and coffee.
Hill will lead worship and share a special Homecoming message during the 10:30 a.m. worship service. Children and youth also will share special readings.
After the service, the hospitality committee will prepare a meal of ham and scalloped potatoes. Those attending may bring a salad, casserole, side dish or dessert to share. During the meal, there will be a slide show presentation of photos from various church events through the years.
At the conclusion of the meal, everyone will be invited into the church to share memories and talents.
In the late 1880s, Ellen Chapel came into being through the Aurand Sunday School, a summer program run by Fannie Aurand that welcomed families of all denominations.
Local hardware store owner F.G. Franciscus, a superintendent of the school, decided to erect a chapel beside the school at his own expense. He named it Ellen Chapel in memory of his late wife.
In 1886, the year the church opened its doors, the congregation decided to expand its Sunday school to a year-round program.
In 1901, the church became part of the local Methodist charge and was pastored by circuit riders.
Across the next few decades, the congregation continued to grow, and with it its buildings. In 1932, a primary room was built, followed by the conversion of the Aurand School into a community hall in 1941.
In the '50s and '60s as church activities increased, they purchased more land to build a new sanctuary. The school was converted into a community hall.
The members worked hard to raise money for the building projects, hosting butcherings and pig roasts, doughnut sales, suppers, barbecues and other fundraisers.
As a book of the church's history notes: "The rewards from these projects were many. We learned to work together as a congregation. We came to know our neighbors better. It became a close-knit community."
In 1977, the congregation held its first services in the new sanctuary.
More recently, the church has become independent, though Hill said they still follow the tenants of the Methodist faith.
He described Ellen Chapel as a hard-working, country church. Its people show a visible witness of Christ's love by reaching out to people in need, he said.
For more information about Ellen Chapel or the celebration, call the church at 248-9436.