Eulogy for a Closing Church

rehobeth united methodist churchThe United Methodist Church closes churches on average 332 churches every year (statistic courtesy of Ken Sloane, GBOD Path1). In your annual conference session this year there was no doubt a resolution to close one, two or more churches for the coming year. Membership, in the United States, has been on the decline for decades. In 2009 the United States membership  for the United Methodist Church was just under 7.8 million people. This is a 1.3 million member drop from the beginning of the decade. The active movement of local populations has oftentimes left churches without a population to even pull a membership from.

How do we honor the ministry of our dying churches and yet move forward?

Pastor Brad Smith offers this Eulogy for a Country Church, Rehoboth United Methodist Church in Pulaski Tennessee which he will preach at their last service as a Methodist Church, closing down 200 years of history.

Rehoboth United Methodist Church survived the Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the turmoil of civil rights, and over 200 years of ups and downs. Many pastors began their ministries at Rehoboth. In the 1960s and 70s, ministerial students from Martin Methodist College served as pastor of Rehoboth. Many people still have a connection to this small church. Many people were baptized. Many couples were married. Many people were laid to rest at Rehoboth United Methodist Church.

As with the story of many country churches, Rehoboth saw a steady decline over the last 40 years. There is no one reason and it is not one person’s fault, but there are many factors that contributed to the closing of Rehoboth. The area where Rehoboth stands has changed from a small community to the edge of an industrial park. People have left with no one coming in to replace them. This is the story that repeats itself all over the United Methodist connection. Maybe, in the end, it was just God’s time.

Rehoboth may hold its final service on Sunday, but as long as one person remains who holds cherished memories of this “church in the wildwood” and as long as those who first met Christ in this church continue to proclaim the Good News then Rehoboth will continue to be a part of the Body of Christ.


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