NORTH CHATHAM–The setup for the Lord’s Acre Auction at the North Chatham United Methodist Church was nearing completion on the morning of October 12. Volunteers were setting up tables, straightening shelves and bringing in benches. People drove their trucks and cars into the lot at the back of the church to drop off bags and boxes of donated merchandise. For this event, the grounds behind the church and its adjacent barn have become a big white tent city filled with treasures of every sort, and all for sale.
As it has been every year for the past 70 years at the United Methodist Church at 2474 Route 203 in the hamlet of North Chatham, a whole department store worth of useful items and antiques will go up for auction. But this will be the last time.
Paul Herrington is the auction chairman. Last Saturday morning he was tying up the awning over the south side of the church that will serve as the auction arena and hustling from one question to another so that everything would find its proper place.
“This sale is an institution—there is nothing like it around in size and scope,” he said. “It’s a real auction. We have an auctioneer, his name is Larry Benson.”
Mr. Herrington listed the categories: books, clothing and shoes, electrical, holiday items, linens and dry goods, sporting goods and toys. Also, there is a make-an-offer section, a white elephant department and prepared food.
“Starting around the first of May people bring stuff, or we have a truck to go out and gather things up– people call and say we have some stuff you could come and get,” he said.
Mr. Herrington worked as he talked. Responding to a question of why the auction is ending, he said, “Now the workforce is aging out. It’s an issue of help.”
“And it used to be that people would pay good prices for things,” he added, “now they are just not as willing, and this is a big source of money for the church.”
North Chatham resident Broome Spiro has been a volunteer at the auction for the past 25 years. His reaction to the last of the Lord’s Acre Auctions reflected another theme that many of the volunteers expressed. “The real value of this is in community,” he said. “Community is a very ethereal thing— you can’t put a monetary value on it, and when you’ve lost it, how do you get it back?”
“North Chatham is a unique community,” Mr. Spiro said, “it doesn’t really have businesses; there is the firehouse, the library, the post office, and there is the church.”
He said that there are about 100 volunteers for this auction and most of them are not church members but people from the community. Mr. Spiro held up a framed auction flier printed on crumbling brown newsprint. It advertised the 1969 edition, touting “stupendous values,” clam chowder and babysitting services for families as they made a day of it.
Emma Sluus and Liz Hurley were working in the tent housing clothing and holiday items. Ms. Sluus has volunteered at the auction for over 60 years and Ms. Hurley for 42 years.
“When I was a kid it was held inside the church we used to enjoy doing it, but there aren’t enough people any more,” said Ms. Sluus. “It’s outgrown us.”
Referring to the decision, Ms. Hurley said, “We had to vote with our heads and not our hearts. It’s sad not just monetarily but in camaraderie.”
Ms. Sluus and Ms. Hurley agreed that it will be nice to not have to do all the work any more.
Ed Gardner, lay leader of the church, was overseeing preparations in the electrical items section. Noting the longevity of the Methodist Church in North Chatham (construction of the present building was completed in 1867), he said, “It is in the nature of the church to try to engage the community so we are not just some big mausoleum in town.”
“We have a big social outreach; we contribute to seven food shelves in the county, weekend school backpack lunch program, the Salvation Army in Hudson and outreach for people with emergencies,” he said.
Citing the aging out of many volunteers, he said, “Now we’ve had to revisit what this auction is doing and maybe try to find some less labor intensive way, like on-line marketing opportunities.”
He said that there is talk of some sort of flea market next year, but in size it will be nothing like what the Lord’s Acre Auction has become. And the clothing barn will continue to operate on its own.
On Saturday, October 19, there will be a brief worship service at 8 a.m. with most of the sale opening at 8:30 a.m. The White Elephant department will open at 10 a.m. and the auction of many items, including antiques, queen sized adjustable bed and two patio sets, will start promptly at 11 a.m.
For more information go to northchathammethodistchurch.org or call 518 766-3535.