Halloween special: Reports of spooky happenings in UM settings

Churches are havens of safety, places of welcome and respite, a heavenly pathway to God — but that doesn’t mean they can’t have their own tales of unexplained happenings.

Some United Methodist churches, cemeteries and at least one home of a well-known Methodist reportedly have things that go bump in the dark (or daylight) — when no living soul is around. The most famous Methodist of all — John Wesley — was believed to have had a ghost in his childhood home that his family named “Old Jeffrey.”

“Old Jeffrey” plagued the Epworth Rectory with mysterious loud noises and knockings and made his first “appearance” Dec. 2, 1716. Susanna Wesley was quoted as saying, “there was such a noise in the room over our heads, as if several people were walking, then running up and down stairs that we thought the children would be frightened.” As she and her husband searched the house in vain for the culprit, Old Jeffrey continued “rattling and thundering in every room, and even blowing an invisible horn at deafening decibels.”

Old Jeffrey disappeared in January 1717 just as suddenly as he had appeared.

Thirsty, loud spirit

The Rev. Tim Morrison, pastor of Spencer (Ohio) United Methodist Church, might take some comfort from Wesley’s experience.

Mr. Morrison has heard and seen several unexplained things in his church.

One day, while sitting in his church office, he heard what sounded like someone kicking the metal cabinet in the room next door.

“It was in a rhythmic pattern, but I just tried to pretend like it wasn’t happening.” As the noise continued, Mr. Morrison thought perhaps an animal had somehow been trapped in the cabinet, so he went to investigate.

No animal, no one else in the building.

He returned to his desk, and the knocking started again.

Must be a thirsty ghost, since Mr. Morrison has also seen the water fountain come on and the handle turn when no one was around. He hasn’t yet been scared off, but his experiences did lead him to post a question on Facebook: “How many strange noises would you sit through in an empty church before you got freaked out? Just curious.”

One friend replied, “I think it’s great there is someone or something else at church. How do I get them to help with church chores?”

Mr. Morrison isn’t frightened. He knows whatever “it” is, it’s not evil, just mischievous.

United Methodist News Service posed a question on Facebook, asking if anyone else had unexplained spooky church sightings to report.

Nancy Jill Hale wrote: “Several years ago, a friend and I were practicing a duet on the piano in the sanctuary one evening when it was dark. While we were playing, we both stopped at the exact same moment, looked across the room, and said, ‘Did you see that?’ Of course, nothing was there, but we both swore we saw the shadow of someone walking down the aisle. Needless to say, we quickly closed up the piano and left the building!”

Another responder, Jeff Bobin, said, “One time, after midnight, I was in my church office when I heard what sounded like banging in the basement. When I went downstairs, I couldn’t find anyone, and then I heard footsteps on the floor above me in the hall. I never did find anyone in the building, and the only door that someone could go out had a bell that rang when you opened the door.”

Little girls and wailing banshees

Searching the Internet turned up some other United Methodist related ghost stories like the man in a black business suit who glides up and down the aisles in First United Methodist Church, Evanston, Ill.

“Wailing banshees” occupy the now-abandoned Oakey Streak Methodist Church in Red Level, Ala. Visitors have reported hearing the laughter of a small boy and a little girl who skips down the dirt driveway leading to the church.

Morrison said his church location might explain what he has seen and heard. Spencer United Methodist Church is located next to a famous and well-documented haunted cemetery. People report seeing one or two lanterns floating free in the air as if held by invisible hands.

Bringing in the ghosts

And then there’s Cass Community United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit that imports ghosts and goblins every year at Halloween.

Members of the 127-year-old church use classrooms and their basement to construct a spooky maze. Tickets are $10 and mostly bought by college students from nearby schools. The Rev. Faith Fowler, who opens the house each weekend night leading up to Halloween by whacking a heavy chain against the walls, said the church uses the money for their extensive neighborhood ministries.

The fundraiser fits the neighborhood, one of the most dangerous urban areas in the United States, Ms. Fowler said.

Michael Chance, one of the UMNS Facebook responders, has an answer to all the ghost stories in churches: “Noises of other unexplained goings on? Just the saints of the church watching over things.”

 

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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