Woodstock Presbyterian is a church that knows who it is and what it wants its ministry to be.
“To me, that’s what makes ministry vibrant anywhere,” said Reverend Ron Gilmer, who joined the parish last fall.
The church at 142 E. Court St. excels as a community hub, providing a meeting place for area groups like the Lions Club, Rotary Club, and ESL classes.
“Because it’s a downtown church…the church really strives to be a community center,” Gilmer said.
“I’m very excited about some of the things that are happening,” he said. “As it’s my first year, I’m still learning.”
Gilmer, who joined the church Sept. 1, previously served in Detroit, Michigan, and has been ordained since 2006. He graduated from the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary.
He credits his parents with inspiring him to love small towns and American music.
“I was raised in a small town in South Carolina, so I like to be in a place where I can walk around town every day,” he said. “I can walk to lunch and see people downtown. A sense of community in a small town is unparalleled.
Gilmer was also a high school teacher for six years, calling his life “very fulfilling”.
For a time he was a full-time pastor and part-time teacher, and then that changed. Now, he says, he is focused on his ministry.
“I care a lot about the next generation,” he said. “There seems to be a disconnect between the main religion and the next generation.”
Although he doesn’t yet know how to bridge that gap, he said he’s willing to experiment.
Gilmer, 50, has a daughter who lives in the New River Valley in southwestern Virginia.
“I’m proud to have raised my daughter on my own,” he said.
About a week away from Easter, the already active church is offering more programs than usual, planning special services for Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and prayer times on Good Friday.
On Palm Sunday, it will offer a reading and music service at 11 a.m.
“It’s going to have the feeling of a Lessons and Carols service like you’d see at Christmas,” Gilmer said.
On Maundy Thursday at 7 p.m., they will have a tenebrae service, “which is a service of darkness,” he said.
Reading the Passion story, he said that they would put out the candles throughout the story to end the evening in total darkness.
On Good Friday, the shrine will be open from noon to 3 p.m. for people to come and pray in remembrance of the day Jesus was crucified.
Throughout the Lenten season, he said the church participated in Tuesday evening study sessions on the book “Slow in Plain Sight: A Devotion Through Ten Objects,” by Jill Duffield.
They also plan to end the season by rallying around the cross in their parking lot where they gathered on Ash Wednesday with other members of the Woodstock Ministerial Alliance.
The cross was built by Presbyterian members from Woodstock, Gilmer said.
At Easter, the congregation will bring flowers from their homes to decorate the cross.
“It should be a very beautiful thing,” he said.
As with many other churches in the area, Woodstock Presbyterian has been continuing hybrid services since returning to in-person worship after months of quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A year ago Easter was the first time they worshiped together in person after the pandemic,” Gilmer said.
Although he said services have been done in person ever since, the hybrid option allows people who still fear gathering with others or those who live too far away the chance to be part of the service.
It was especially nice for older people, he said, like Margy Boyer, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday by attending the service virtually from Strasbourg and hearing the congregation sing “Happy Birthday” to her.
“She’s not able to join us, but she’s virtually worshiping with us,” Gilmer said.
After the service, he said, a group from the church had planned to visit him and bring a birthday cake. They also helped celebrate her milestone with a shower of cards.
It’s unclear how many people are attending from home, but Gilmer said about 60 people come to the in-person service each week.
Like other churches, he said he noticed the internet is a way to reconnect with people who were raised locally but may have moved on.
“We’ve found that while there’s no substitute for face-to-face gatherings, it’s better to be connected than not,” he said.
“It gives people a chance to hear us sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to their loved one when they turn 100.”
Contact the church at 540-459-2646 or woodstockpresbyterianchurch.com.