The New Methodists

By Frances Ruth Harris

Pastor Betsy Ott:

“The history of The Methodist Church in Franklin dates back to the early 1800s when circuit riders came through this area to preach, baptize, marry and bury. They also offered communion as they traveled. The first church met in people’s homes, and a small group began to gather at one of the houses on Main Street, an apartment building today. The present church was built in the 1860s and reconfigured in the 1920s. At that time, the Fellowship Hall and kitchen with bathroom were added. In the 1960s, the basement was excavated to make more Sunday School classrooms. The sanctuary windows are noteworthy for their beauty.  One was a gift of the McCall family.  

“The church went through a long period of declining membership and pastors who did not live in the community. It was officially closed in January of 2023.  However, there was community-wide interest in seeing the church remain, and so a group called the Launch Team began discussion with the District Superintendent about forming a new congregation.

“A “soft launch” opening was held in July at St Paul’s Episcopal Church and the group met there through October when they moved to the Bennett Funeral Home. On December 14th, the Launch Team was told they could reopen the former Methodist Church building for worship and for their ministries. 

“The Launch Team, and other volunteers, have cleaned out, painted and redone the Fellowship Hall as a place of welcome and functionality. Work on the rest of the building will continue, with hopes of public support and grant funding.

“The name ‘Open Doors’ was chosen intentionally. The Open Doors United Methodist Community is welcoming to anyone seeking engagement with the community, spiritual growth, and good conversation about timely topics. So far, we have offered grief groups and Bible study, but our plan is to have storytelling events, musical concerts, and WiFi access with Open Doors for community youth and adults who would like a meeting place in the village at least one day a week.”      

In an email, Pastor Ott related her strong ministerial and pastoring with her many family connections going back to 1919.

“My maternal grandfather, Rev. Dr. John Glenwood entered ministry in 1919 after surviving WWI.  He served many churches in the Hudson Valley and Catskills and was retired when he and my grandmother, Florence, moved to Franklin in 1971. Their house on Center Street has been the family home ever since. My father, Rev. Gene Black, met my mother, Faith, while in college and came to New York from his home state of Indiana. He served churches in the Catskills and Hudson Valley, including Tannersville and Delhi, before arriving in Franklin in 1963. In 1969 he was diagnosed with glioblastoma and died a year later. My mother moved with my grandparents to the house on Center Street where she lived until her death in 2019.

“I had a call to ministry in my late 30s, and at the age of 45 entered seminary at the Theological School of Drew University. I completed my MDiv in 1999 and was ordained an elder in 2002. I have served in Westbrookville, Buchanan, Lake Ronkonkoma, and Park Avenue in Manhattan, where I was the first woman senior pastor. I then served for eight years as the District Superintendent of the NY/CT District, retiring in 2019. Since then, I have served as an interim in Delhi and have been working on this New Faith Community since spring of 2023. I didn’t plan to re-enter active ministry but, when asked, I could see God’s plan. 

“I grew up in this area and decided to return for the community connections. I graduated from DLI/FCS and have maintained friendships over the years. My family lived here, so I was always coming back to Franklin. I know from my own experience that people need a pastor they can relate to and who is ‘around’ to meet them where they live and work. And God called me to see what we could do together to make a place of welcome and spiritual connection in our community, so I agreed to take this on with quite a bit of excitement about the possibilities!” 

A visit to the sanctuary revealed work in progress. Parts of the organ are stored on top of the pews. When the Grand Gorge Methodist Church merged with the Harpersfield Methodist Church, Open Doors received kitchenware, including many tables and chairs. Open Doors gave a small donation in appreciation of the gifts from Grand Gorge. 

Pastor Ott said they occasionally have “messy church,” a 15-minute service for children and families. Once the kitchen is complete, they will all share a meal together afterwards. So far 9 to 11 children have participated in the 15-minute messy service. Ott said there will be special services, such as Thanksgiving and blue Christmas. Blue Christmas is for those who have unhappy Christmas memories. There is also a weekly Bible study. Ott invites everyone to come and claim their seat. 

Launch Team leader Donald Hebbard is a retired dairy farmer who began his faith journey as a child attending the Methodist Church in Franklin. Hebbard will soon work just three days a week at his fencing business, as his grandson is taking over the business. This will give him the rest of each week to plan and execute the physical rebirth of the church. Continued painting and revitalizing the multipurpose area are high on his to do list. He said he had a call from God. Hebbard said the church won’t be doing the same things they did fifty years ago. His vision is now an all-inclusive one, including diverse populations of people who learn from each other as they worship. Hebbard’s email is and/or phone him at 607-829-8664. 

Outgoing Franklin Mayor Thomas Briggs said the launch team is working from a blank slate. He wants to achieve “the true old-time religion back to the first century.” He said all are welcome to express their faiths and join in with their expressions of reverence. No one is turned away. “We are celebrating our relationship with Christ. We are all healing with the love of God.” 

John Wilson is returning to worship after 45 years and likes meeting others in an arena of “spiritual togetherness.” He likes the spiritual journey at the Open Door Methodist Church, and that Pastor Betsy Ott is a teaching minister, not a preaching minister. He enjoys the sharing and caring community of Open Doors. 

Anyone with questions or thoughts may email Pastor Ott at and/or phone her at 914-584-3872. 

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