During their last service, several members of Christ Church United Methodist in Southwick, Massachusetts praised and thanked the Lord for the last faithful 206 years.
Rev. Ken Blanchard also bid goodbye to his 10-year pastoral service to the church, saying to more than 30 attendees that he was happy to see them at that bittersweet moment, Mass Live reported. He announced it was time for the congregation to disband and leave their church building.
Blanchard encouraged the attendees to leave the church with gratitude in their hearts as it became beneficial to their holy faith and it served as a place where they shared a lot of experiences.
Church's Humble History
They started as Southwick Methodist Church in 1816 with eight members, holding bi-weekly Methodist prayer meetings in the home of Samuel T. Vining, according to the church's website. Despite having to meet in private homes and local district schools, membership grew quickly. Early Methodist clergy were known as "circuit riders" because they delivered sermons as they traveled around a network of cities known as a "circuit" through horseback riding.
After its rich history, Rev. Megan Stowe, a district supervisor filling in for Bishop Sudarahana Devalhar, released the structure and its assets from its sacred use for "any honorable use" and ordered the dissolution of the congregation on June 19 this year, Mass Live reported.
She called the church God's gift and said it served its purpose. Stowe said they were thankful for the ways the church carried out the tasks given by Jesus Christ.
It was also noted in the report that Blanchard distinguished some attendees present during their last service, including the story of one woman who married in the church 47 years ago. He also mentioned one family that had been members of the Methodist church for 77 years, saying that the church holds a massive history.
No Younger Generation To Continue
Barna Group President David Kinnaman said that up to 1 in 5 churches may permanently close their doors as a result of COVID-19 closing orders in the United States. He added that even after the churches reopened, there were still few people attending which may lead to a decrease in contributions used to fuel church works.
According to a Pew Research Center survey published in December 2021, 29 %of U.S. adults identified themselves as nonreligion, a rise of 6 percentage points from 2016 with millennials being the generation driving this trend.
The Christ Church United Methodist also pointed out this must be the reason why they decided to officially close the church last May 22 by casting votes.
Longtime churchgoer Carol Jones told Mass Live that she knew what was about to happen for some time. She cited that no younger generation would continue the ministry works of the church as their church members reached retirement age.
Jones recounted some memories she holds dearly. She said that it was the church where she got baptized and her brother became a treasurer for 40 years, then afterward she also served as a treasurer for the next 10 years.
For the past 22 years, Carol Locke has been a member of the church. She also claimed that the church was doomed due to its aging membership. Many of the church's long-standing revenue-generating endeavors required younger personnel. She said it has been a significant aspect of her life, but regrettably, she believed the time has come.
A member for around 30 years, Mabel Johnson, had expressed her sadness about the closure yet accepted the fact. She said, "I guess when you are my age all you do is say goodbye to things, to people and things."
Johnson shared one story one time while driving herself to the church at the age of 92. She was stopped by Southwick police officers for speeding but then when she was asked where was she going, she pointed out the location of the church. The officer didn't hold up her any longer and said "I got a lead foot."
Repurposing Closed Church Property
According to Mass Live, many of the members were worried about the future of the church-affiliated food pantry situated on the church's property that has long worked to combat food insecurity in the South. Locke asserted that she hoped that when they repurpose the property, it would still benefit the community. She indicated she was not aware yet of the changes with the pantry. She plans to make provisions for the pantry so it would continue.
Christianity Daily once reported about congregations all around the country have discovered innovative ways to reuse closed churches, benefiting not only the church but also the surrounding community. The churches need to plan since closing became inevitable, especially for churches that had an aging congregation that had no younger generation to continue the ministerial works.
"Closing Cost" Author Dominic Dutra encouraged the church leaders to be proactive with the matter to further use property costs on church projects or objectives. In his years of expertise in helping churches to repurpose their properties, he noted that he encountered situations wherein churches had no plan at all for the building.
Related Article: Declining Membership Forces 221-Year-Old Church To Close Permanently