West Salem congregation’s legacy is a community center
by Sally Blanchard
After 110 years West Salem UMC congregation has closed, but volunteers continue serving the community through the church building.
The congregation was organized in 1910, conducting services in a one room schoolhouse and community center. In 1921 Mrs. Joseph T. Hunt donated two lots that were later sold for the lots where the church is now located. Rev. Alexander Hawthorne was pastor of the church between 1921 and 1923 and headed the drive for building funds. Construction started in the winter of 1921 with a volunteer crew with teams of horses to dig the basement. The first 1925 meeting was held in the basement. The building completed in 1926. The Sunday School wing was added in 1956.
Pastor Rev. Norm Barley served the church for the last 14 years from 2006 to 2019. He preached until September 2019 and continued through the end of the year working in the food bank. It was meaningful work to him. “Giving them the communion sustenance they need at their tables. God is always there. If the door is open God can come through.”
Under Rev. Barley’s leadership the West Salem UMC expanded their community center use with other organizations as their building is one of the few meeting spaces in their neighborhood. Among the groups meeting in their building are Narcotics Anonymous, Red Door Community Church – a Nazarene church plant meeting on Sunday mornings, a Methodist prayer group on Saturday mornings, a counseling service that also runs a Bible study, and Adventure Club for Kids on Wednesday afternoons.
West Salem Food Bank
Longtime members Marjean Wilson and Michelle Houghton lead the West Salem Food Bank in the church. Serving 179 families every month, 387 individuals, it’s a place where people know they can come to get what they need. Between sorting the food, running the intake, and talking with the people who come in, 15 individuals keep it running. Unlike many other food banks who provide food boxes, West Salem runs theirs with a shopping system so people can pick what they need, and less food goes to waste.
On Friday mornings you can find volunteers heading downstairs to the kitchen to start preparing the dinner they will later serve to 80-120 of their neighbors. First holding a short time of ministry with their guests, they then serve 2-4 entrees, vegetables, and a dessert. Using restaurant and individual donations, they are able to support this weekly dinner. In addition, with other donations, they also hold a giveaway every week with items such as flashlights, hygiene products, sleeping bags, clothes, and towels.
With the retirement of Pastor Barley, the community continues to volunteer to serve their neighbors through the food bank. The building is now part of the Open Door Churches of Salem-Keizer, Oregon. Pastor Barley is enjoying time with his son and daughter-in-law who live in Salem and delights in time with his twin 22 yr.-old grandchildren, Zach and Lexi.