MIDDLEBURY TWP. — The Burton Community United Methodist Church will hold its final service Sunday, June 30, before closing its doors permanently as a result of declining attendance.
The church, founded in the late 1840’s, once had an addition built to accomodate its growing congregation. Now, it draws only six to ten people per week.
As the group gathered for one of its final services at 510 N Baldwin Road Sunday morning, visiting pastor Bob Bushong had one message:
“I hope that you can just maintain your faith. That is the important thing,” Bushong said. “Whether the building is here or not, maintain your faith in God and pray. Things will work, they eventually will work.”
The decline in church membership has been ongoing over the past several years, according to Trudy Fent, chairman of the church’s board.
“Unfortunately, we’re an older congregation. Our youngest are probably in their fifties. We’ve got members that are going to be 90 and 91,” Fent said. “Our spouses have passed on, so only a few people are left to do all the work.”
Fent, 82, has been attending Burton Community United Methodist since she was 27 years old. In recent years, the church has tried various efforts to get people active and involved with the congregation, but to no avail, Fent said.
Health complications due to low blood platelets now keep her from attending on a regular basis.
“It’s just one of those times to slow down and deal with those (health issues), plus financially it’s not feasible. You need a younger church following to survive and grow. We don’t have that at this point. Most of our kids have moved away, started families of their own and moved on to new places of worship,” Fent said. “I’ve been in the hospital and couldn’t be there for three months. You need people there to do it. You need people there for it to work.”
Sarah Thomas, 48, attended Burton Community United Methodist growing up, and after multiple jobs around the world, she said she made sure to return to what she calls her “home and family.”
“Everything that I learned as I grew up, it came from the people in this church. They groomed me to become the person I am today. I was loved and cared for by the people here,” Thomas said. “Coming back here was one of the best things I could do. I lived in Egypt, I attended churches there; I lived in Panama, I attended churches there; it never was the same.”
“I love this place. I ran around here as a kid and the place was full. It was absolute happiness. And for my little one, it’s sad that she was just becoming really familiar with this church and loving it. It’s hard for us to leave.”
After the church closes its doors June 30, the building will be put up for sale by the Conference of the United Methodist Church, Fent said.
A celebration of the Burton Community congregation will take place later this summer, according to trustee Diana Thaler. The time and location of the celebration have yet to be determined.
“So many marvelous people were baptized here, were members of the church here, were great people in and around the community,” Thaler said. “We want to celebrate all those people. We’re hoping people will come back and join us, to celebrate all of the wonderful times.”