Aug 18, 2010 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
When Hal Jensen became the pastor of the United Christian Church of Marietta in 1998, the congregation was made up of just eight women. But after 13 years under Jensen’s ministry, the church has outgrown its walls, with 80-plus attendees on a regular basis. An addition to the church is underway.
Members at first hesitated to expand on the church’s historic frame; the original building dates back to early 1900 when the church was comprised of 21 women (the men, Jensen says, were busy tending to the farm). The original space will remain in use for Sunday school, and some historic gems will be moved to the new sanctuary, including the church’s chandelier, a gift given by the Presbyterian Church in Marcellus over 100 years ago.
The expansion of the church is no small feat at a time when country churches are struggling to survive. Jensen attributes the church’s prosperity to a simple philosophy taught to him by Village Missions, a group that provides aid to country churches.
“They said the only thing you have to remember to do is teach the word of God and love the people, and always be available to the people,” Jensen said. Village Missions is one of five missions the church now supports.
Jensen himself never expected to go into ministry. The former Marine spent the bulk of his life in the newspaper business. He owned newspapers in New Jersey and still owns papers in Southern New York.
“I thought money was all there was to life,” he said.
Jensen was raised by his grandmother, who he says pulled him by the ears to go to church on Sunday mornings.
“That’s why they’re so big,” he joked.
But by 1998, after 20 years as general manager for Lakeside Printing in Skaneateles, Jensen was ready to move on to a life of worship.
After graduating from the Practical Bible College in Binghamton, Jensen planned to retire from his job with Lakeside and substitute as a minister wherever needed. This changed when he came across the small congregation of women in Marietta with no pastor.
When Jensen spoke as a guest pastor in Marietta, he was so moved by the eight women that he knelt down in front of the church and prayed.
“This is where the Lord wanted me to be,” he recalls saying to his wife. “This is the only church where you can sit in the back pew and touch the front pew!”
Jensen prefers a small church because it can have the atmosphere of a family, “sharing and helping each other.”
“When this (church) gets to a certain size, I recommend we start another,” he said.
But for now, as much as the congregation has grown, it still feels like a tight-knit family. That family feeling has gone into the church’s expansion — the land was donated by a member of the congregation; the trees were cleared by church members, in exchange for use of the wood.
The United Christian Church in Marietta, located 1.7 miles off Route 20 at the intersection of Route 174 and Sevier Road, is nondenominational and welcomes visitors of all backgrounds. The church has a youth ministry, Sunday school for all ages, junior church, a small orchestra, and a monthly puppet presentation. Sunday school starts at 9 a.m. and worship begins at 10 a.m.
Construction on the church is estimated to be complete by October. For a tour of the new addition, call 685-5885. To learn more, visit mariettachurch.org.