What better way for a church to celebrate its 100th anniversary than by inviting friends to that age-old staple of religious life, a potluck dinner?
That's exactly what Westgate Chapel plans to do tomorrow night when it marks its centennial year with a potluck banquet for more than 700 people. In addition, three former senior pastors will take turns preaching a sermon titled "Celebrating Yesterday" during the two morning services.
"It's so much fun to have people coming back to celebrate. It's very exciting," said Sherry Benoit, Westgate's Christian development ministry assistant.
The centennial festivities will continue throughout the month, centering on the theme of "building a bridge between past and future," Mrs. Benoit added.
The large, sleek modern church visible along I-475/U.S. 23 near the Central Avenue exit was founded as Toledo Gospel Chapel on March 20, 1908, when the articles of confederation were signed and notarized.
But Westgate traces its roots back to 1861 when Emerson Hasty started a Sunday School class in the Haughton Center, a one-room schoolhouse at Central Avenue and Secor Road.
The area is now fully developed but 147 years ago it was "way out in the country," according to a newspaper article from the era, and farmers who lived in the area had to travel to Toledo's Auburndale district in order to attend a church.
It was alumni from Mr. Hasty's Sunday School class who founded Toledo Gospel Church, and, with plans initiated by member Cora Conrad, constructed the first church building in 1908 and dedicated the brick facility on Feb. 14, 1909.
In 1922, the Rev. A.W. Tozer became Toledo Gospel Chapel's first resident pastor.
The original church was renovated and expanded in the mid-1950s but steady growth led to the razings of the church and parsonage in 1965 to make way for a new facility.
The church, affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was renamed Westgate Chapel in 1965 to reflect the name of the changing neighborhood.
The new 13,000-square-foot building, which cost $275,000, had a sanctuary that seated 350 and was dedicated Nov. 27, 1966.
By the mid-1980s, Westgate had continued to grow to the point where it was holding three Sunday morning services, with attendance averaging 700 to 900 people per week.
In September, 1986, members voted to buy a 20-acre plot of land on Wilford and Elmer drives in Toledo for $350,000.
"By the time we left that church [in the Westgate neighborhood], we were averaging over 800 in attendance and we had 52 parking spots," Mrs. Benoit said.
Ground was broken in 1992 on the current Westgate Chapel facility, a strikingly modern 65,000-square-foot white-and-glass structure with clean horizontal lines.
Built for $5.6 million, the church was dedicated April 4, 1993, with a sanctuary that seats 1,300, large nursery and children's areas, 40 classrooms, a library, a kitchen, and informal seating areas with a fireplace.
A 25,000-square-foot addition was built in 2006 at a cost of $5 million, featuring a glass-topped lobby, a multipurpose room, and additional space for children's and youth programs.
Attendance at the 9 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday services is averaging 1,545 a week, according to Don Benoit, director of music and worship.
The three former senior pastors who will preach tomorrow are the Rev. Jim Armstrong, who retired in November after 11 years as pastor; the Rev. Paul Valentine, who served at Westgate from 1984 to 1994, and the Rev. Lloyd Patterson, who was senior pastor from 1959 to 1974.
The Rev. Larry Carey, executive pastor, is serving as interim senior pastor while a committee conducts a search for a new senior pastor, Mrs. Benoit said.
More information on Westgate Chapel and it's 100th anniversary celebration is available online at www.westgatechapel.org or by calling the church, 419-841-8077.
- David Yonke