Members of the St. Felix/St. Francis Parish Cluster in Clifton Springs and Phelps recently bid fond farewell to a piece of their past, while looking ahead to the future with joy.
Parishioners gathered Jan. 8 to say goodbye to the St. Felix Parish Hall, which recently was sold to Clifton Springs Hospital. The next day, they were joined by members of three other Phelps churches in kicking off the Village of Phelps’ sesquicentennial celebration with an ecumenical service at St. Francis Church.
St. Felix Hall was built in the 1860s and originally served as a Universalist church, according to Sister of St. Joseph Joan Sobala, pastoral administrator of the St. Felix/St. Francis Parish Cluster. St. Felix Parish bought the building in 1920, and until recent months used the facility for parish events and parties, wedding and anniversary receptions, religious-education classes and bingo.
Several factors led to the decision to sell the hall, Sister Sobala said. One is its location at the corner of Broad and East Main streets, relative to the Hibbard Avenue location of St. Felix Church.
“It’s about a half a mile away from the church, and over the years it has ceased to have the same pull,” Sister Sobala said.
The hall also needed repairs the parish couldn’t afford, especially after its bingo program ended last April, she added. In late February 2004, the bingo program had been halted temporarily because some plumbing in the hall had frozen, according to Louise Payne, who had run the program since the early 1980s. A month and a half later, the plumbing was fixed and bingo started again, but by that time, many people had become involved elsewhere, she said. In February 2004, a new video gaming floor opened at Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Farmington, issuing a final blow to the bingo program, Sister Sobala said.
“Bingo died an ordinary death because of the way gambling is taking a different turn in the area. It’s not just ours that was a problem; it was all over,” Sister Sobala said.
By that time, religious-education classes had moved to the St. Felix Parish House, so the parish hall wasn’t being used much. The parish held a series of pastoral-council and town meetings and, after receiving diocesan approval, sold the hall to Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic, Sister Sobala said.
“That is a good thing for the community because Clifton Springs Hospital is one of our mainstays in town,” she added.
The hall has been a big part of the parish’s history, serving it well and earning parishioners’ affection, so it was fitting for the parish to say goodbye with a party and some prayer, Sister Joan wrote in an early January bulletin column. At the party, she presented Payne with a table lamp in appreciation of her efforts to keep the building up.
“She really has been what I would call the caretaker of St. Felix Hall over the years. She’s been there, and she did whatever upgrades she could out of bingo money. She was the light in that building, and now she has a new light to see by,” Sister Joan said.
Money brought in by a refreshment stand at bingo enabled her to purchase toilet paper, tissue, light bulbs and anything else the building needed, said Payne, who has belonged to St. Felix Parish for more than 80 years. She said she enjoyed running bingo and she misses both it and the hall, but acknowledged that “you can’t have everything forever.”
The day after the goodbye party, another celebration took place in the cluster, this one at St. Francis Church. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Village of Phelps, and the parish hosted the kick-off ecumenical service, which drew 230 people.
“In late January every year we celebrate the church unity octave, in which the focus of attention is on praying for church unity,” Sister Sobala said, explaining the parish’s decision to volunteer to host the service. “St. Francis is the oldest of the four churches in Phelps, so we have the longest history here and felt that in welcoming the others we were welcoming the present and the future.”
Representatives from St. Francis, the United Church of Phelps, Church of the Nazarene and the Faith Community of Phelps led hymns, prayers and readings at the service, at which banners representing each of the four churches were displayed. The service helped people to recognize similarities among the four churches, Sister Sobala said.
“It was the most incredible thing because we realized that we all share the Apostles Creed, and so we said the Apostles Creed together,” she said, noting that the service was a significant event for a small town like Phelps. “The Village of Phelps could have this service to begin their year, and nobody questioned it.”
At a time when some in society want to take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance and remove the Ten Commandments from public places, it’s nice to know that a service like this can still take place, she added.