A Short History of the Greek Orthodox Community of Morgantown, WV

Morgantown, West Virginia sits on the banks of the Monongahela River in the north central part of the state. It is the seat of Monongalia County and serves as the home of West Virginia University.

The first Greek Orthodox Church in the area, St. Markella’s, was established in 1928 by newly-arrived Greek immigrants, most of whom had found employment in a tin plate mill in the Sabraton section of the city. However, that location made it difficult for those who lived in downtown Morgantown and,  especially, for West Virginia University students, to attend services. Therefore, in October 1954, a committee was formed for the purpose of canvassing potential members and reorganizing the Greek community toward establishing a church in a more centrally located area of Morgantown.

On January 21, 1955, a “general meeting of the Greek Orthodox Church Organization of Morgantown” was held in the basement of the First Baptist Church on High Street. Forty-seven members were present. It was decided to request recognition by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. It was also decided that inquiries be made regarding purchasing the First Christian Church located on Spruce Street in downtown Morgantown.

Events happened quickly after the January meeting. Archbishop Michael of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese granted official recognition to the community on June 18, 1955. On August 7, 1955, the parish by-laws were adopted and the first Board of Trustees was elected. Following these events, negotiations were begun with the owners of the First Christian Church for the purchase of the church building.

The first service held in the new church took place on Sunday, November 6, 1955. A little over a year later, on February 1, 1957, the church mortgage was paid. Soon after, on March 17, 1957, a general meeting was held with the purpose of naming the church. The majority of the congregation chose the beautiful name “Assumption.” Thus, the congregation proclaimed its love and devotion for the Holy Birthgiver of God.

Parishioners devoted many hours of labor in remodeling the church proper so that it would meet the standards of Orthodoxy. Donations were collected and beautiful icons, painted in Salonica, were purchased. Some items, such as the chandelier that hangs in front of the altar, came from St. Markella’s. The church proper was gradually transformed into a fitting structure for the celebration of Divine Liturgy.

In 1969, renovation began on the church’s exterior. Stone and aluminum siding improved the original wooden building structure. In 1983, new pews and kneelers were installed.

On October 7, 1984, a weekend was devoted to celebrating our 30 year anniversary.

Many former parishioners and WVU graduates were able to attend. The focal point of the weekend was the consecration of the church building by Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh who, in his paternal love, reminded us that we are “spiritually brothers and sisters walking together on the path of salvation” and his wish that the day “will prove to be the beginning of renewed commitment to and a rejuvenated faith in our Savior Jesus the Christ”.

The church building was approaching the 100th anniversary of its construction. In 1994, the Parish Council became concerned that no major maintenance had been done since the consecration. It was decided to appoint a Building Renovations Committee. The purpose of this committee was to address the question: Should we remodel or rebuild? A structural engineer was consulted. He submitted a report stating that his inspection showed the building to be structurally sound. With a few minor repairs, it should serve us well for the next 100 years!

Thus, the Renovations Committee decided that it would be more feasible to renovate the church, rather than to build a new one. It was decided that such renovations should be done in two phases: Phase I—major repairs and maintenance; Phase II—make the church more accessible to the elderly and those with physical disabilities.

With the approval of the General Assembly, the committee was given permission to borrow money from the church savings, provided that the savings left in the bank did not go below $100,000 and that the money would be replaced as soon as fund-raising pledges were collected. With that agreement in hand, bids were solicited and, in October 1995, work began. The altar floor was rebuilt and reinforced after it was discovered that the old floor was in serious danger of collapsing. It was replaced with marble-patterned ceramic tile. New double-paned windows were installed. The hardwood floors in the church proper were re-finished and new carpeting replaced the old. Water damage to the walls was repaired and walls and ceilings were painted. Wainscoting and chair railings were added to the church proper. New tables and chairs were purchased for the church hall. A banquet was held celebrating the completion of Phase I. Metropolitan Maximos was in attendance as was the Mayor of Morgantown.

Finally, in 2002, acreage that had been donated to the church was sold. It was decided that the funds from the sale would finally allow the beginning of Phase II. With the guidance of Paradigm Architecture, a new facade was built that included a more open entrance and a three-level elevator. In tribute to the very first Greek Orthodox Church in our area, the cornerstone of St. Markella’s Church was included in the structure.

No history of the success of the church would be complete without mentioning the importance of the Ladies’ Auxiliary. In the beginning, it was decided that, because there were so many financial needs to be met, all monies raised by the Auxiliary would be turned over to the Board of Trustees each year on Father’s Day. Bake sales and covered dish dinners were the main source of fund raising. In recent years, as official members of Philoptochos, there has been an effort to become more involved in the needs of local charities. Each month, a collection is taken for Christian Help, a local multi-faith organization dedicated to providing for the needs of the homeless. Also, members bring in articles to be given to the “Backpack Program” so that children in the area will be able to have meals on weekends and during the summer. And, when the Vasilopeta is distributed on the first Sunday of January, a collection is taken to be sent to St. Basil’s Academy. Simply put, our ladies serve Christ and are His mother’s loving hands in our church, as well as the greater Morgantown area.

As proud as we are of the achievements of our community in maintaining the physical condition of the building, we are even more proud of the spirit and the love that is the essence of our parish life. The history of this parish is filled with countless incidents of caring. When a community is small, there is no doubt that everyone is needed. Every family has contributed in its own way so that the church may grow. Through the years, and because of our proximity to WVU, we have been blessed to number among our members those from many different nations. Egyptians, Eritreans, Romanians, Russians, Serbians and Thais are but a few of those who, along with converts, have added to the richness of the original Greek culture. Our history can be summed up in one word: commitment. Through struggles and heartaches—and there have been a few—through joys and elations—and there have been many—we feel committed to that small group who were determined to maintain an Orthodox presence in Morgantown. We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ wants this church to grow, and with Him as the center of our hope, we will succeed. We commit this parish to His service and to the truths of Orthodoxy. Our continued prayer is that we will always be a vital part of Morgantown. May the Holy Theotokos intercede for us and help us fulfill that prayer.