For 70 years, Virginia Gladieux, with husband, Dale, has attended East Christian Church. The historic Oregon church is disbanding after Christmas services Saturday, after more than 100 years of operation.
Virginia Gladieux has been attending Christmas services at East Christian Church for 70 years.
"It's the only church I've ever gone to," she said.
Sunday morning, however, will be the last time she will worship at the historic Oregon church.
East Christian, a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, is disbanding after the 9:30 a.m. service.
Attendance has been dwindling steadily, from more than 300 in the 1980s to several dozen lately, and the congregation has been aging.
The decision to close was difficult, but one that could not be avoided, Mrs. Gladieux said.
"Over the years, young people didn't come in and the older people died.
"Last week, we had 26 people at church [on Sunday morning]. Financially, we couldn't take care of the big heating bills that would be coming this winter," she said.
East Christian was incorporated in 1900 and founded as a congregation in 1901. Part of the mainline Protestant Disciples of Christ denomination, it was a prominent church in the eastern areas of Toledo for many years.
It began with a group of women from Central Church of Christ -- founded in 1872 in downtown Toledo -- who met for Sunday school in the afternoon.
A handful of the women transferred their membership from Central to East when the new congregation was started.
Among the founding members was Mrs. J.W. Ogdon, composer of the famous children's church song, "Brighten the Corner Where You Are."
The East Church congregation first built a wooden building at Woodville Road and Forsythe Street, then razed that structure to build a brick church in the Old English Gothic architectural style. That building cost $50,000 and was dedicated March 24, 1929.
It was lauded for having "all the latest appointments," according to reports in The Blade at the time, including a spacious auditorium, mahogany woodwork, and a marble baptistry.
East Christian was a fixture at Woodville and Forsythe for nearly 60 years until the congregation grew to 300 and needed more space for worship and a larger parking lot. It sold its East Toledo building in 1987 for $102,000 to the Crusaders for Christ Holiness Church.
"We bounced around for a while after that," Mrs. Gladieux said.
The congregation met at several eastside venues over the next three years, holding services at Cardinal Stritch High School, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and St. Charles Hospital, until it moved into its present facility at 525 South Coy Rd., where it held its service in October, 1990.
Mrs. Gladieux, 73, whose most recent office at the church was chairman of the worship and fine arts committee, met her husband, Dale, at East Christian.
A retired Toledo police officer, Mr. Gladieux had been at East Christian his whole life. Mr. and Mrs. Gladieux were baptized at the church -- which practices baptism by immersion -- sang in the choir, and were married there in 1957.
Members of East Christian, where Communion is served every Sunday, long have been involved in programs to serve the greater Toledo community, including volunteering once a month at the Helping Hands of St. Louis soup kitchen, making quilts and sewing other items that are donated to the Church Women United's thrift shop on Crissey Road in Holland, and holding an annual rummage sale to benefit charities.
Attendance has fallen steeply in recent years at East Christian and the church has had just a part-time pastor, the Rev. Mary J. Wood, for several years.
The lack of young people was one sign the end was near for the congregation.
"We only had two teenage girls," Mrs. Gladieux said. "We had three or four people's grandchildren coming, but when they changed the service time to early in the morning, their parents stopped coming. Young people are the future of a church."
The congregation is looking to sell its Coy Road building. The organ and piano will be left for the future occupants while many of other furnishings will go to its sister church, New Hope Christian Church, or the denomination's regional youth camp.
After Sunday's closing service, the members will go their separate ways and look for new church homes, Mrs. Gladieux said. After being so active in her congregation and holding church offices her entire life, it will require an adjustment to just sit in the pews somewhere else.
"My husband said that wherever we go, it won't be long before I get involved," she said with a laugh.
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.
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