Congregational Church throws out red carpet for 79th Harvest Dinner

By Christi Baron


When you reach for the door latch on the double doors of the Forks Congregational Church the first thing you notice is how brilliantly the brass hardware shines. As your thumb depresses the lever and you enter, freshly waxed floors greet you.  


You get the feeling that somebody really cares about this building and what it means and has meant to the community of Forks.  


But a few years ago the roof was leaking, floor tiles were missing and the word on the street was it was on its way to being closed down.


In 1902, a group of Forks women, Esther Ford, Martha Maybury, Winnie Peterson and Melinda Elterich, decided a church was needed. They applied to the Congregational Church Building Society for a grant for $400. With the grant received within a year, a church was constructed on land donated by Maybury near the corner of Calawah and Merchant roads.


Fundraisers continued and for $40 a church organ was acquired.


In 1922, it was decided to move the church downtown and land was again donated this time by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Ackerly.  


Tragically, during the move, grocery store owner Cleve Maxfield was killed while moving one the rollers used to help move the building.


With the church downtown, a block east of the stoplight today, on Division Street, this place of worship really began to grow, with Sunday school and a church orchestra.  


Soon community groups began using the church.  


Public speaking classes, home economics clubs and with a donation of 516 books the first town library all called the church home.


In 1934, when Reverend Ford’s car was destroyed in a suspicious fire at the parsonage, community members came together to raise $400 for a replacement car.  


It was also that year that the first official Harvest dinner in October came in to being, as a fundraiser for the church, the entire community was invited.  


As the community and the church grew, in 1953 Bertha Palmer donated land for a new church across from the high school in memory of her husband Walter, making it possible for the current building to be constructed.


In April 1954, 58 men, all Forks residents, canvassed the community to raise funds for the new church and in one day raised $70,000 plus donations of building materials and promised labor.  


Ground was broken for the new building in December 1954 and the new church was dedicated at ceremonies held on Oct. 16, 1955.


But as time passed, times changed and a few years ago the church was having a hard time keeping and paying for a pastor and maintaining the building.


Three years ago, Warren Johnson, who grew up in Forks, saw his church building was crumbling before his eyes.


“The church was falling apart, needing a new roof, heat pump, windows, sheet rock, floors and more. All our money was going to keep a pastor and that money was going fast,” Johnson said. “God called us to run the church ourselves.”


Since then, those repairs have been made and now Johnson is working to become a licensed minister.  


On Friday, Oct. 18, the 79th annual Congregational Church Harvest Dinner will take place from 4:30-7 p.m. in the Church Fellowship Hall, Tickets are  $10 for adults, $6 for children and seniors. To help, donate or for questions, call Warren Johnson 374-9382.  


It is a chance to enjoy a feast that is a Forks tradition and in the spirit of its pioneer founders providing a place for all faiths to come together.  

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