The First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte in Pennsylvania held its final service and will permanently close at the end of the year following a steep decline in attendance and membership.
The central Pennsylvania church, which is almost as old as the borough itself, held its final service on Christmas Eve after welcoming congregants for the last 221 years.
"There's just such a love among this congregation. We've all known each other so long and we know each other's foibles," church elder Candace Dannaker said in a conversation with the Centre Daily Times, as reported by ABC News. "I'll miss our personality, our laughter and our joy in just being together. And, of course, the faith aspect of sharing that with other like-minded people."
The First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte, which is located at 203 North Spring Street, was established in 1800 by the very same community that founded Bellefonte back in 1795, when there were only 16 states in the U.S. Among its handful of members at the time were two former Pennsylvania governors. The congregation met at the courthouse for about 20 years before moving in a stone edifice. The structure that exists today was built a little after the Civil War.
Before the COVID pandemic, the church had about 40 members, a number that fell to 25 today. The church also had no in-person worship from March 2020 until Easter Sunday. Dannaker recalled that when she joined the church 34 years ago, there were about 200 people in attendance at the church.
The Christian Post reported that as per 77 year old churchgoer Pam Benson, who had been a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte in Pennsylvania for 73 years, the declining membership is because of the changing times.
Benson recalled how when she was growing up, businesses would close on Sundays, which gave parents time to take their children to church. She added that competition between churches for new members was not steep. She lamented, "It's just change. It's progression. It's what happens. Not that I like it, but it is what it is."
During the socially distanced Christmas Eve service last Friday, many pews remained empty at the congregation, but members lit and raised candles as they said their final goodbyes, "And the light has splintered the darkness. And hope is ours once more. And this light does call us forward, remembering the past, and walking confidently into the future. And now go in the peace of Christ."
According to the Pew Research Center's National Public Opinion Reference Survey conducted between May 29 to August 25, only 45% of U.S. adults admitted that they prayed daily versus 58% who said the same in 2007 and 55% who said the same in 2014. Christians remain as the largest religious group in America, but they only now make up 63% of the adult population.