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This old house of worship

At 100 years old Hickman Community Church is hardly feeling aged.

Some might expect a small town centenarian church to have a pastor and congregation of near equal age.

Not Hickman Community Church.

The Rev. Doug Porter, a young man in his 40s, has brought in a young paid and volunteer staff. Porter, a longtime Hickman resident who coaches the Hickman varsity wrestling team part time, also has developed a large teen fol-lowing at the church.

"Kids have always touched my heart," says Porter. "We've done our best to incorporate them and have their say in how the church grows."

Hickman Community Church in the past has tried to keep its young people interested.

In 1938 the 4-H Club spurred a church restoration project. After raising the money for materials, girls and boys from the group helped repair the building's tired facade.

The structure was a copy of a church Mary Dallas Hickman saw during her travels in France. She fell in love with the design and had an architect there draw up the plans. Hickman returned from Europe with the plans in hand, a pulpit, three pulpit chairs and a communion table. Hickman residents purchased the materials to build the church in 1888 and in three years the congregation had a place for its services.

Like most small-town churches, Hickman Community served as the main religiou s and social center.

But by the late 1980s the church lost resonance.

When Porter started pastoring there three years ago, he says the church had about 20 to 30 members attending services.

He and his staff have tried to rejuvenate the congregation with programming for young people and families.

The result is a congregation 150 strong, with many members commuting from Denair, Modesto and Waterford. The church, which now offers two worship services on Sunday, will move to three by the end of the year. Sunday school attendance is ballooning from 60 to 75 and sometimes 100.

Porter gives much of the credit to his staff of 10 volunteers. Also having grown up in the area, Porter say, Hickman residents know and trust him.

"I knew everyone out here. I knew everybody's kids and just about everyone's dog's name."

He works hard to keep kids involved because he's concerned that too many young people are fleeing the church.

"Only three out of 10 high school kids upon graduation stay in the church," he says, citing national statistics from a Southern California Christian study. "That's too big of a loss."

Porter says he'll do all he can to curb that trend in Hickman.

Hickman Community Church celebrates its 100th birthday Oct. 26, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Activities include a barbecue, auction and more. Tickets, available at the church, are $4.50 for adults, $3 for children.