BAPTISMAL FONT REPAIRED
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
MILFORD – Three years ago, shortly after the Milford Methodist Church burned down, two members of the congregation, Al Bullard and Bill Triolo, were standing across Route 28 watching a crew of Peruvians from Rohlf’s Stained & Leaded Glass, Mount Vernon, removed “Christ in Gethsemane” and other windows from the ruins.
As Bullard remembers it, Triolo, now chairman of church trustees, suggested, “Let’s go over and ask them for help.”
Soon, the amiable crew was loading two wooden flower stands, the Communion table, the pulpit and the Baptismal font into Bullard’s red pickup truck.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get the communion rail,” he added.
The church furnishings ended up in Bullard’s garage on Eddie Martin Road, except for the pulpit, which organist Ron Johnson stored in his garage in Pierstown, and is now in the Milford Community Center on East Main Street.
“The wood was alright,” said Bullard, an antiques and hops expert who is also pastor at the Colliersville and Emmons Methodist churches, “but it was black from soot and water damage.”
He added, “You can’t go wrong with quarter-sawn oak of the finest quality.”
By the time the new church opened last summer, Bullard – assisted by David Elliott, Milford – had restored the Communion table, inscribed across the front with “Do This In Memory Of Me.”
This past Sunday, however, when church members tuned into Pastor Sylvia Barrett’s 10 a.m. service on YouTube, which has become a staple since the coronavirus threat required in-person Sunday services to be cancelled, they were greeted by a surprise.
The Baptismal font and flower stands were back in place. (The pulpit, considered out of scale in the smaller church, may be restored and displayed as an artifact in the new lobby.)
Among delighted church members was Becky Mattison, Oneonta, who had been alerted the day before by her daughter, Emily Mattison-Welsh. Both Emily, now 37, and son Shawn, 41, were baptized at the font.
The mother called it “an old friend.”
Bullard has been refinishing furniture since a teenager in the Philadelphia suburb of Morton, Pa., where his father was an antiques dealer. “I like bringing things back,” he said.
The bowl is Depression glass, created between 1930 and 1939 by the Jeannette Glass Co. in western Pennsylvania. In the space beneath the bowl, Bullard found instructions on how to space the pews in the old church.
He scrutinized the brass plaque on the blond wood: It was donated by the pastor at the time, the Rev. Robert E. Austin, and his wife.
Looking at records back at the parsonage, Pastor Sylvia discovered another surprise: Rev. Austin was pastor in 1929, when an earlier church had also burned down.
He donated the Baptismal font at the ceremony dedication the new church in March 1930, 87 years before the replacement church burned.
Bullard has a personal connection to artifacts salvaged from the 2017 fire: One of the smaller restored windows behind the Communion table was dedicated to Grace Martin, a relative of his wife Sandra.
Raised a Presbyterian, he came to Otsego County in 1966 to attend the Cooperstown Graduate Program in Museum studies, met his future wife and stayed, becoming a Methodist.
“It’s nice to have something from the old church in the new church,” he said. “For continuity.”