United wherever they may be: Foothills United Methodist sings last cantata in original Gloversville church


A view from the balcony at Foothills United Church at 17 Fremont Street in Gloversville, during its lenten cantata service on Sunday.

GLOVERSVILLE — Cindy VanAllen’s mother first carried her into the church at 17 Fremont St. when she was pregnant with her 72 years ago.

On Sunday, she was at the pulpit and in the choir as the congregation came together for its Easter Cantata service — another reminder of the season of change that lies ahead.

Ethel Reali, and her husband Tom, raised their daughter in the Christian faith at what was then Fremont United Methodist Church in Gloversville. In the late 2000s, VanAllen became pastor for about a half-decade — ending in 2012 — of Foothills United Methodist, the merged congregation of Fremont and the already-merged First United Methodist of Johnstown and First United Methodist Church on Elm Street in Gloversville. The union, which occurred in 2005, brought everyone together on Fremont Street, but — after nearly two decades of planning — a move to a new space is finally set to happen.

Since the advent of Foothills United Methodist, cantata services at Christmas and Easter, in which narrative pieces of music tell the story of the season in place of a sermon, have become more a tradition at the Fremont Street church. They add narration as well. On Sunday, the community was together for one more of those musical services in the building that has stood since 1875, and on the ground where Methodists have worshiped since 1840, according to VanAllen.

Current Pastor Brad Chesebro, who was out of town Sunday, said the closing on the church’s purchase of the closed Jansen Avenue Elementary School in Johnstown could happen any day now. The church is having a May 1 service for former pastors, their families and others who have served as a part of bringing closure before the move.

“We want to certainly recognize that sense of loss somebody may be feeling because some are really excited but some are like, ‘I’m really going to miss the old place. I have some good memories here,’” said Chesebro in a phone interview on Friday. “So, certainly, I think having the cantata is going to create one more wonderful memory as we ready ourselves to move into the new location.”

Jon Glover, 85, first brought his sister Joni Dennie, 67, to 17 Fremont St. when she was three years old. Glover remembers weddings, baptisms and countless other functions of meaning in his life that happened in this historic Gloversville church.

“It’s just the culmination of the many years we’ve been coming here,” he said, “and it’s just a sad event but then it continues on.”

Dennie remembers Easters when she was little, when the church that can fit over 500 people would be full and going downstairs afterwards.

“As tall as I am now, looking up at everybody down there because I was three or four years old, and I distinctly remember that,” she said, “just looking up at everybody, yeah, that was amazing.”

Sandy Sacerio and Mary Chase have experienced some of those feelings in more recent years at Foothills United Methodist. The two are members of what they called the “911 group.”

According to Sacerio, 67, who started coming to the church in 2004, it’s a core group of women that started as about six that went to CAMP-of-the-WOODS in Speculator every year and has grown to include 12 or 14 now. An average of eight make that annual trip to get away but they all are on Facebook Messenger and reach out to each other if anything happens. Sacerio says they take care of each other. That type of welcoming, compassionate community is what drew her in the first place.

It was the same thing for Chase. The group is also central to the work done around the church, and she started becoming more involved in it all about three years ago. The group has been truly special to her during times of need.

With the move to a former school space that is 30,000 square feet, Chesebro has great hopes for growing the ministries of the congregation. They have a food pantry already in operation that will make the move but the existence of a gym on premises and classrooms create opportunities for more family ministry as well for a church with a small and aging active membership roll.

Chesebro is considering basketball leagues, after-school programs and even more ways of engaging families that were not possible in the limited space downtown. Lay leader Sandy Harrington’s grandson Archer, 12, also has an idea of his own that he already has going in his backyard in Mayfield.

“I want to start a Wiffle ball league.”

He said he and his friends already play at his house, and he’s brought it up to a few kids at Gloversville Middle School, where he is in seventh grade, because both his parents teach in the district, and there is interest in at least coming to the new building to check out the sports possibilities on property.

“They could start talking to other people, other people could start talking to the other kids,” he said. “It could stop some of the bad things happening in school and stuff like that.”

It’s an entry point to get them to come to more. His grandmother and VanAllen see that.

And, as far as the move, VanAllen says the church is the people — not the building. Everything that made her who she is at age 71 is coming with her to Johnstown.

“I’ve sung in the choir since I was like, three years old, maybe so you know, it’s like, this is my home. But I want to strongly say, this is a building. This is not the church,” she said, “I have my faith, my faith will go with me wherever I am. I will always be a retired pastor. And therefore wherever I can serve God is where I will serve.”

By Andrew Pugliese

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