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Ralston area church featured on today’s cover

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The charming quality of the Roaring Branch United Methodist Church was what enticed local artist Mickey Mapstone to capture the building in a watercolor painting which was chosen as the winner of this year’s Bald Eagle Art League’s church painting contest. The winning entry is then used as the holiday cover page for the Sun-Gazette’s Christmas edition.

“When it snowed we (Mapstone and her husband) would go out and drive around all these little towns,” she said.

It was on one of their travels around the countryside that Mapstone said she was attracted to the way the light shines on the church, which is located in the village of Ralston.

She first entered the painting in the contest that year and then the next.

“I thought it was nice, but nobody picked it,” she said. On the third time of entering, the painting won. Prior to this, some of Mapstone’s other paintings had won the contest five times.

The artist noted that she prefers painting country churches that are fairly plain and white in color, which presents the problem of depicting the church in a snowy setting.

“You have to see the colors in the snow,” she said of the various pastel colors that comprise what may be seen as just white.

Mapstone, who has been painting since high school, said she prefers painting with oils more than anything, but admitted that she “loves art, period.”

The church is located along Route 14 and was started in 1870 with 20 members, according to Jean Roan, the church’s pianist. During the lifetime of the church there have been 48 ministers. Cecily Eisley currently serves as the church’s pastor.

When it began, it was called the Methodist Episcopal Church and the parishoners worshipped at members’ homes and at the school, which was located next door to where the current church building is. In 1881, a group of members got together and purchased an acre of land for one dollar and built the current church building on a lot 28 feet by 52 feet, Roan said. Construction costs for the building were $2,950.

There are two wings to the church arranged so that the floor resembles a cross, Roan noted.

There are 15 original stained glass windows in the church. In the 1950’s a kitchen was added on the back of the building, which served hot lunches to the children in the nearby school until the school was razed in 1971.

In the early 1900’s, the church was at the center of the community life in Ralston. Roan shared a story she had read about from that time of a Sunday School picnic on Memorial Day where the girls, dressed in white dresses, carried red, white and blue banners and the boys carried flags. Everyone in attendance, about 200 people, marched to the village’s cemetery for a service and then walked back to the church for a picnic.

In 1968, the church’s name was changed to the Roaring Branch United Methodist Church. About 40 people worship there on a Sunday morning, Roan said, with about half of them young children and teens. The church is active and getting together to share a meal is a frequent activity. Roan, who has been a member since 1988 joked, “We’re Methodists, we do a lot around food.”