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140-Year-Old Church Auctioned In Syracuse

David Chanatry

As ringing bells herald this Christmas season, another city church has gone silent. The West Side United Methodist Church in Syracuse has closed its doors, and last week it auctioned off its contents.

You don’t often hear the sound of a piano in the same place you would hear an auctioneer

But recently, you could hear them both at the West Side United Methodist Church in Syracuse. After 140 years, this onetime community anchor has closed its doors, and sold nearly all its contents at auction.  Stained glass windows to the altar furniture right down to the brass hooks that held the choir robes. 

That piano was just being tested out by a prospective bidder.

Two years ago the few members left voted to “restart” as a ministry that reaches out people in the community rather than continue a traditional church. And now it’s just too expensive to heat and maintain the large brick building.

When we look at our faith and look at who we are as Christians we don’t worship the building. The building is just, it’s just a place. And we really want to be in our community sharing God’s love,” says Reverend Becky Laird.

The auction profits will fund their new mission.

The auctioneer led the bidders en masse through three stories of the church building.  The largest and most valuable items: tables, rugs, the church bell and that baby grand were arranged in the sanctuary.  Among the bidders were many long time members of the church.

“It just holds a lot of meaning,” says Kathy Garty, who wanted one of the solid chestnut church pews, but when she saw dozens crammed into a room. “It’s so sad. There’s just so many memories of these being there and you grow up and now they’re going to go to wherever...everybody...they’re just selling it!”

Craig Nunneker watched the scene as he leaned on both his cane and an old table. He was married here in 1952. 

“Just memories for me,” says Nunneker. “This was your whole life. They had meetings and classes and different things that went on during the week that kept you occupied.”

Nunneker cooked the church’s monthly roast beef dinners, and he was looking for his favorite pot. But plenty of antique dealers and collectors were here, too, bringing with them a more appraising eye. People like Joseph Downing and Will Doswell.

Is there anything in particular we’re looking for?,” Downing asked himself. “No, just things of beauty.”

But Doswell, too, seemed wistful about a bygone era.

“This whole church is really beautiful,” says Doswell. “As a kid growing up churches were a place where there were beautiful things, and it was all very revered, and now it seems like every year we go to another church auction to watch it all being sold off.”

Reverand Ward says it’s slivers of history and legacy being passed to the community, and it’s a sign of the times, “At this point in the stage of where the church is at, I think it’s pretty impossible for the church to preserve buildings as large as this when the member base is not what it used to be.”

West Side United Methodist Church itself will go on the auction block later this month.

David Chanatry is with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College, which can be found at www.nyrp-uc.org

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