By Melissa Klaric
Herald Staff Writer
Today and Tuesday are moving days for Bethlehem Presbyterian Church of Sharon.
The 18-member congregation may be vacating the building, but that will not stop the parishioners from celebrating together. They will worship at 10:30 a.m. Sundays through Easter at the former Book Rack on West State Street in Sharon.
“We’ll start there for now and take it from there,” said Commissioned Ruling Elder Jim Moose.
The church held its last worship service Sunday morning at 710 Carnegie Ave., its home since Dec. 1, 1951.
“When people came through the door, you could see they were carrying bags of memories,” Moose said.
“We are a small Hungarian church, a small congregation looking for a home,” Moose said.
In the afternoon, more than 65 people gathered to celebrate the 111-year history of the church.
The procession that kicked off the bittersweet festivities had bagpipers blaring out “God Bless America,” with Sons of the Sharon American Legion Post 599 marching down the center aisle.
“They graciously volunteered to come and send us off,” said Commissioned Ruling Elder Jeff Calvin, Sons’ commander.
Then Moose invited the audience to “sit back and celebrate some Hungarianism.”
That included the Hungarian dancers who performed traditional village dances.
The Hungarian “Bottle Dance” had the ladies balancing green bottles on their heads while dancing, turning and bending under a bridge made by the other dancers.
Although the mood was somber yet celebratory throughout, emotions ran high, eyes started to tear and sniffles could be heard as the service came to a crescendo with the song, “Faith of Our Fathers.”
In between the singing and dancing, various people stepped to the podium to read narrative on the church’s history.
“This is where the historical trail grows dim,” a parishioner read.
In 2012, the Committee on Ministry of Shenango Presbytery ordered the congregation to share the building with Word Centered Fellowship Presbyterian Church, formerly of Masury.
Most parishioners, in their late 70s to early 80s, and “worshipping in the traditional Hungarian manner, were upset to share their church with a multi-cultural, charismatic congregation,” as described in the written account.
“Things change. They don’t do change well,” Moose said. “There’s been a lot of anger, a lot of animosity.”
Toward the end of the narrative, Moose said he intentionally skipped over the more sensitive issues of how the church came to an end. “We had hoped it (the service) would honor the history of the church.”
“We just wanted to keep it short and nice,” Calvin said. “We can’t afford in this valley to burn any more bridges.”
Moose closed the celebration: “As this church disbands, may we always remember what’s happened here.”