FINDLAY Attendance at Sunday morning services is down to single digits, so it comes as no surprise that Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church is closing tomorrow.
But the inevitability doesn t ease the pain for the faithful few who have been regular attenders at the 132-year-old church.
I m pretty sad about it, Betty Clark said flatly. She plays piano during worship and has been attending the little country church for 40 years.
I ve invested a lot of years and a lot of emotions in the church, she said.
The weddings of her two married children were held in the white, wood-frame church, located at the intersection of Country Roads 40 and 75 amid sprawling farmland five miles south of Findlay.
Mrs. Clark s four grandchildren were baptized at Pleasant Grove.
But since she started attending the one-room, rural church in the 1960s, attendance has fallen from 50 to a handful. On a good day, there could be as many as 10, but we ve had as few as 4 or 5, Mrs. Clark said.
Tom Slack, communications director for the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, said that in 2003, seven churches closed in the conference, which has 1,185 congregations. He estimated that the number of closings was similar in 2004 and this year.
In most cases, either the populations shift or the congregations get smaller because a generation of people has moved away, Mr. Slack said. In many small communities where family farms once ruled the day, the church is the last institution that remains. It s the last vestige of what was once a village.
Mrs. Clark said church members have efforts to save it before, including sharing a pastor with another church, and having a lay pastor. But although the church is financially sound, members said, there simply are too few people to keep it viable.
Mr. Slack said money is not always an issue when a church closes.
A church needs to be able to have an impact on its community, he said. Bishop [Bruce] Ough has been very straightforward with churches about that. You might have enough money to hire a pastor and bring in musicians for worship, but the whole question is: What kind of impact are you having outside your doors, on the community? If all you can do is keep your church program going for the people who are already there, then you re really not fulfilling the obligation of the church.
Mrs. Clark said members of Pleasant Grove have no dispute with the hierarchy and feel that United Methodist officials have been a great deal of help throughout the process.
Last Sunday, members of Pleasant Grove UM held a Soup Day, an annual fund-raiser where members cook a large kettle of vegetable soup over an open fire, then sell bowls of the soup to visitors.
We had a real good outing, said churchgoer Steve Dillon. People who heard we were closing stopped by and we raised over $400 and sold out of our soup.
This time, the proceeds are going toward the costs of maintaining the church building, which dates to 1873. The steeple had to be removed and its bell relocated to ground level a few years ago because of structural problems, Mrs. Clark said.
Mr. Slack said when a church holds its final service, it includes a deconsecration ritual, which is an acknowledgment that this will no longer be the place of a worshipping congregation.
The Rev. Elsie Slack, 83, has been pastor of Pleasant Grove for 13 years and plans to retire after it closes, Mr. Dillon said.