On a gorgeous late-October afternoon, Oct. 22, an audience of about 50 gathered in the sanctuary of Zion UMC in Aristes for the “From Ashes to Rebirth” event: a celebration of the legacy of the Centralia UMC, which was closed in the early 1980’s due to an unrelenting, underground mine fire. They celebrated its life-giving investment in the (then) brand-new Church of the Resurrection (UMC) in Chester County, now known as Exton UMC.
Hosted by Zion UMC Pastor Rose Marquardt, the program included greetings and presentations by: North District Superintendent the Rev. Hun Ju Lee, former North District Superintendent and current Eastern PA Conference Leadership Development manager the Rev. Steven Morton, the Rev. Micheal Husko, pastor of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, and local author Dave Dekok. Dekok wrote the definitive history of the bizarre Centralia experience, Fire Underground: The Ongoing Tragedy of the Centralia Mine Fire.
Exton UMC Pastor Meagan Ackerman provided an inspiring update about the current ministry of her congregation and projected images of worship items from Centralia now in use at Exton site, including the old church bell, pews and a cross. The images warmed the hearts of former Centralia UMC members present some 40 years after the coal region church was closed.
As the Zion UMC Aristes sanctuary is equipped with the organ used at Centralia years ago, this event included song. And, of course, no gathering in a United Methodist Church is complete without refreshments, provided on this day by a neighboring UM church in a “Sunflowers and Honey Bees” theme.
This celebration made the front page of the Bloomsburg Press Enterprise and the Pottsville Republican Herald. While the Centralia congregation and church building are now long-gone, the spirit of these Methodists continues to fuel the Wesleyan movement in the Eastern PA Conference today.