Members pray peach fest draws younger worshipers


Parishioners of the Solley United Methodist Church lament that the community is growing without them, and they are praying that peaches might help. A peach festival, to be precise, that would attract new members.

Members of the church on Solley Road -- the majority of whom are elderly -- hope the festival, scheduled for Aug. 19, will tap into the area's renewed vitality and help offset the "graying" of the congregation.

When the church, founded in 1873 as Marley Methodist Protestant Church, first moved from Marley Neck Road to the small, white building with the wooden door at its present location, the Solley Road community was a quiet farming and residential neighborhood.

William Upton, 69, and his wife, Lois, 65, both members of Solley United Methodist for the past 22 years, recalled packed pews back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

"There were 60 and 70 children just in Sunday school," said Mr. Upton, the church's lay leader. "But when they grew up and married, they moved away. There has been a dramatic decline [in church-going] over the years."

In addition, the residential flavor of the area was weakened as industries became the newest neighbors. With the transformation of the neighborhood, the congregation of Solley United Methodist began to mature quickly.

"The church is not too young," said Elizabeth Hahn, 86. "There are mostly older people, and they get sick and die and are in the hospital a lot. The young ones are coming back a few at a time."

But in the last few years, the community began turning residential once again.

Communities such as Chestnut Hill Cove and Stoney Beach have sprung up. More than 2,000 new homes are in the planning stages or being built on Marley Neck Road, just west of the church. And Brandon Woods, an energy business park, is located up the road. There also are plans for a new elementary school in the area.

"I'm excited to see all of the growth in this community," said John Mason, 32, a church member and organizer of the peach festival. "The older people here welcome change and anything that will let the church thrive and flourish.

"People take it for granted that the church will always be here, but it won't unless young people stay involved," he added.

But getting the peach festival off the ground has proven somewhat difficult, Mr. Mason said.

Once, Solley church was well-known throughout the county for its summertime peach festivals and springtime strawberry festivals because the fertile soil on nearby farms was good for ggrowing the fruit. But that was years ago, and the members who made those festivals work have grown old and weary.

Yet the church members see a brighter future. With a new, young pastor, Timothy Dissmeyer, heading the church for the past 1 1/2 years, there has been an increase in attendance.

The festival also will serve as an early kickoff of the church's 120th anniversary next year.

The festival will be conducted under a tent on the church's field on Solley Road, from 4 to 8 p.m.

There will be plenty of peach deserts, baked goods, other foods and drinks, historical information on the area, and activities for children. Tickets are $3.50 for adults and $2.00 for children and are available at the church.

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