Presbyterian church in Albion founded in 1837 closes down
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — The First Presbyterian Church of Albion has closed its doors after 182 years of ministry.
More than 90 people gathered for the church’s final service, led by the Rev. Charlotte Ellison. Among the attendees was 87-year-old parishioner Caroline Swyers, who lives across from the church.
“I’ve been here since I was a little girl,” she said to the Battle Creek Enquirer. “I sit there and I see my mother was in the choir, my dad was active in the church, I taught Sunday school when my kids were growing up, so there’s a lot. We’re no longer a congregation.”
The church was founded in 1837. An earlier version of the building was designed by architect Elijah E. Myers, who also designed the Michigan State Capitol. It burned in 1883, but the shell of the structure and two stained glass windows were saved an incorporated into the present building.
Its grand appearance couldn’t keep the people coming.
Membership, which hit its peak at about 600 in the 1960s and 1970s, had dropped to between 12 and 15.
A recent Gallup poll showed Americans who report belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018. And the declines in church membership has hit mainline Protestant denominations the hardest. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the denomination that First Presbyterian belonged to, has been losing members since the mid-1960s.
“It has dwindled, which is something that has happened to a lot of churches,” Ellison said. ” And the membership has aged.”
Six years ago, First Presbyterian Church of Albion had about more than 30 people worshiping regularly.
There were efforts to rebuild the congregation, including a program called “grand Sunday,” where grandparents were encouraged to bring their grandchildren to check out the church.
“This church has been very creative to attract new people and keep on going, but it just didn’t happen,” Ellison said.
It became clear a couple of years ago that the church was no longer able to sustain itself with the dwindling and aging membership.
It was time to close.
“I’m Rev. Charlotte Ellison and this is harder than it looks” Ellison said as she opened the church’s final service. Elena Solero then led the congregation on the piano during an opening hymn of “The Church’s One Foundation.”
“Imagine the people that passed through this church,” Ellison said. “Imagine the babies that have been baptized. Imagine the saints who have been laid to rest. For many of you who have come to the church, home, all of your life, I can only imagine how the halls echo with memories of overflowing Sunday school classes and joyous corn roasts and worships in the park and pancake suppers and holiday celebrations.
“It is good to comfort ourselves by remembering the very wonderful times that this church has known, the great love this congregation has exchanged, the place we have blessed this community, and been blessed by each other.”
The church building belongs to the denomination. The Presbytery of Lake Michigan will look for the church building’s next purpose.
“I think we are looking at this as a celebration of faithfulness,” Ellison said. “One-hundred-and-eighty-two years of continuing ministry is quite remarkable. It’s hard to feel badly about it except for we just don’t like to think of things ending.”
“We would love to have another worshiping body come and take this church,” Ellison said. “It’s got a lot of life left in it.”
Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com