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150 Years of Worship

Quinn Chapel AME Church is celebrating a milestone this year — its century-and-a-half anniversary.

To celebrate reaching 150 years, the church will hold two celebrations next weekend — one to honor members of the congregation and a special church service.

While it wasn’t the first black church in Lawrence County — that was Macedonia Baptist Church in Burlington in 1807 — Quinn Chapel is the longest-running active black church in the county.

Church member Bonnie Ford Holmes said it is the people that have kept the church going for so long.

“I really think the reason for the longevity of our church is the faith of many of our members, past and present, and also their love for their church,” said Holmes, who joined 25 years ago after getting married.

“A church is just a building, but the love you have in your heart for your church and your church members, you don’t think of it as really just a building.”

Jim “Jimmy” Gordon has been a member of Quinn Chapel as far back as he can remember and was baptized when he was 12.

He too thinks it’s the people, past and present, who make the church.

“They believe like we do now. We believe that we have to have a place of worship for posterity for the people that come after us,” he said. “I think that’s why it has survived for all this time.”

The African Methodist Episcopal Church evolved out of the Methodist church in 1816 after black members of a Philadelphia church believed they were being discriminated against since, among other things, they had to take communion after white congregation members.

Locally, Quinn Chapel traces its origin to simple services that were held in the home of Henry Harney in December 1856.

Within two years, the congregation had grown so much that they built their first church, which cost $300.

Within seven years, the congregation began construction of a larger facility on the corner of Eighth and Adams streets in Ironton. It was completed in 1869 and named in the honor of Bishop William Paul Quinn, who was the fourth bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

In 1909, a second church bearing the name of Quinn Chapel was built on the corner of Eighth and Adams streets. The artificial stone structure with stained glass windows stands to this day.

The Rev. Melonie Valentine was appointed pastor in November 2004, and is the first woman to lead Quinn Chapel.

On Aug. 26, there will be a special recognition banquet at Ohio University Southern’s Riffe Rotunda to honor several dedicated Quinn Chapel members for their many years of faithful service.

Among the special honorees are Wilma Fox, Harold Gordon, Zelma Holmes, Betty Gordon, Herald Smith, Velma Davis, and Marsean Ferguson.

A special memorial tribute will also be extended to the late Naomi Steward and the late Lloyd Scales, both of whom served for many years.

“When you look at these members and think of all they have done, you just can’t help but be inspired,” Holmes said.

Gordon said the long-standing members should be recognized for their work.

“We just wanted to recognize people for the selfless acts they’ve done on behalf of the church,” he said.

On Aug. 27, there will be both the regular Sunday service at 11 a.m. and a special 150th anniversary service at 4 p.m. with former Quinn Chapel pastor The Rev. Daniel E. Jones delivering the anniversary message. Several local vocalists and musicians are scheduled to perform.

Gordon said that as far as plans for the future of the church, they hope to attract new members and grow their numbers.

“We’d also like to make a meaningful contribution to the community,” he said. “And we want to honor God and carry on his work. People are welcome to join us at anytime.”

Holmes hopes that the special celebration will bring back some members who may not have been to Quinn Chapel in awhile.

“There are so many people living that their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles were very important members of the church,” she said. “We’d like them to come back.”