Blackbird congregation will celebrate its 120th anniversary Dec. 8. The church opened in September 1899 and was named after Levi Scott, the first bishop from Delaware. It closed to regular services in 2003 and now holds a yearly Christmas service in early December.
Sitting in an empty sanctuary at Scott Church, Karen Brenwalt points to the second pew on the left side of the sanctuary. She remembers sitting there as a child every Sunday with her grandparents about 50 years ago.
She said her grandma would give her paper to doodle or a piece of gum to keep her quiet during the services.
“I will sometimes sit in that pew and think, ‘This is exactly the way it was,’” Brenwalt said.
This is the sense of nostalgia the church brings for special service in early December.
The church opened in September 1899 and was named after Levi Scott, the first bishop from Delaware, according to the Delaware Public Archives. The one-room building in Blackbird was constructed and furnished at a cost of $1,050.
“We don’t even have indoor plumbing,” she said laughing. “We have an outhouse out back. It’s not functional but it’s there.”
Brenwalt remembers in the 1960s, when about 20 to 30 people would come regularly.
Kids were growing up and leaving, but no new members were coming to replace them. The church had a hard time competing with large churches that had daycares and other amenities.
End of weekly services
Weekly services at Scott Church stopped in June 2003 because of low attendance, down to about 10 people each week.
But this was not the end.
In 2013, the building went on the market, and Brenwalt’s late mother Elizabeth Reed McCain bought it for $52,000. She planned to restore it and hold a Christmas service early in December, Brenwalt said.
“When it went up for sale, my mother said, ‘We need to preserve it. Let’s get it if we can,’” the Camden-Wyoming resident recalled.
She said it was almost exactly the same, except a picture of Jesus had been stolen.
Brenwalt is the fourth generation of family to attend the church, with the legacy going back to her great-grandfather. She said it was common for Scott Church members to be multi-generational.
She inherited the property in 2016 after her mother died and has put about $5,000 into restoration, such as landscaping, interior and exterior painting, a new fence and stained glass windows.
“There’s no better place to spend my money,” she said.
Former Scott Church member Vicky Guessford said seeing familiar faces at the yearly service brings back great memories of her attending church with her grandmother.
“It brings that happy feeling of Christmas,” she said. “It brings my grandmother back. It brings back a picture or an image of what the church was like.”
She started going to Scott around the start of the 1990s when about 20 people attended regularly.
“Everybody treated you like family,” said Guessford, a Blackbird resident. “They greeted you with a hug and kiss and made you feel welcome.”
Everything looks as it was including the pump organ from the church’s opening and the pews installed during the 1950s.
Filling it with people in early December transports people back in time to when Scott Church was thriving.
“It makes the church feel alive again,” Brenwalt said. “It really takes me back.”
Plans for Dec. 8 service
Scott Church will hold its Christmas service Sunday, Dec. 8 at 6 p.m., at 120 Blackbird Road in Blackbird, followed by a fellowship hour at the community center across the street.
Brenwalt coordinates the service, but she has five to seven people who help her put it on, including Guessford who usually reads scripture verses or a poem.
“I’m so glad we do this every year,” Guessford said. “It makes you remember all the good times and the good people.”
Brenwalt said the service takes her back to the 1960s when the church was full of people, except instead of 20 to 30 people, they get 60 to 70.
“The first year we had it, we didn’t have enough seats,” she said. “We were carrying chairs over from the community house across the street.”
She said some who come are original members, but others are people who had family who went to Scott or might be attracted to the history.
Rev. Keith Noel will give the sermon for the second year in a row. Typically, different ministers donate their time each year.
Many people sing, read the stories behind the songs and share the history of the building.
This year, they will celebrate the building’s 120th birthday during the service.
Looking at the packed sanctuary so full of life on this special day in December, Brenwalt is taken back to her days as a young girl, sitting in the second row pew with her grandma, knowing she is happy her family was able to keep Scott Church alive.
“My grandmother loved this church so much,” Brenwalt said. “She would be so proud we kept it alive.”