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Stabler's UMC marks 200 years of worship and service

While Americans commemorate the 200th anniversary of the writing of the "Star Spangled Banner" on Sept. 14, members at Stabler's United Methodist Church will have their own party that day to celebrate their church's 200th birthday.

A special homecoming service begins at 11 a.m. with music by Total Surrender, followed by a luncheon in the church hall.

The public is invited to come see the 20-pew church described in an 1872 booklet as being "invested with all the poetic charms generally ascribed to country churches. It is built of stone, with large old-fashioned windows. There is an air of comfort and coziness about it that cannot be passed by unnoticed."

The church, on the corner of Stablersville and Stablers Church roads in Parkton, has a stone with the date 1814 on the rear exterior wall of the building. It is listed on the state's Inventory of Historic Properties.

"We do a homecoming service each year and this one is so special," said the Rev. Darryl Zoller, part-time pastor since 2009. "I hope to cast a vision for the next 200 years as we stand on the shoulders of the founders."

Zoller described the church, where attendance ranges from 25 and 40 each Sunday, as "a place where people feel they belong. You're a stranger here only once."

Rose and Roy Albin have been members since they moved to Parkton in 1970 and asked a neighbor where to go to for Easter services.

"It's like home," said Rose Albin. "People hug you and ask you how you're doing. There are families who have been coming to Stabler's for a long, long time."

Zoller said the church was likely built from stones that farmers had cleared from their fields. The small town of Stablersville was once home to a school, gristmill and sawmill, according to Maryland Historic Trust records. By 1881, some 100 people lived in Stablersville.

Church members who have researched the building's history say the earliest document they found is a deed recorded on July 26, 1826, showing Christian Stabler received $6 for one-half acre "for the sole use and benefit of the Methodist Episcopal Church." The church was referred to as Stabler's Meeting House in its early days.

The small church shared a pastor with numerous nearby churches. The pastor would ride a horse from church to church on a circuit.

Its Sunday School started in 1827 and is credited for having the first "Infant school" in 1845, according to an 1872 booklet "Improvement in Circuit Sunday Schools."

In 1836, Christian Stabler was paid $5 for a small parcel of land dedicated to a cemetery.

The number of church members has fluctuated over the years and the church even closed in the early 1900s. It reopened some 20 years later but the building had deteriorated while it was empty.

The church's salvation is owed to a man described as "Dr. Ross" in a church history and merely as "a Baltimorean" in a 1936 York, Pa., newspaper about Stabler's restoration.

The article notes that several thousands dollars was spent to put in a new carpet, pews and a floor, install seven memorial stained glass windows and commission a mural of Christ at Gethsemane above the altar. The painting was not signed.

The benefactor paid to have a hall built to seat 100 people. He also paid for a fully equipped kitchen.

Since then, the numbers of attendees has continued to fluctuate. At one time, there were only six church members, said Sharon Norton, 61, who has attended Stabler's since she was a child.

"We worried it would close again, but you keep hoping it will come back, and it did," she said. "It is still around after 200 years and we hope it will be for 200 more."

Stabler's United Methodist Church is located at 1233 Stablers Church Road, in Parkton.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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