After 153 years of faithful service to the community of Strawn, the First United Methodist Church of Strawn will be closing its doors on Sunday, June 24th. The congregation and friends from neighboring churches will celebrate the many years of ministry with a Farewell Service at 6 pm that evening. The community is invited to join us as we sing, pray, and worship together one last time in this, our final worship service.
For decades this church has dutifully served its community. In this place children were baptized and confirmed, celebrations and singings were held, meals were shared, couples married and families said their final goodbyes to loved ones. In recent years, FUMC of Strawn participated in community-wide events such as local parades and community clean-up efforts, as well as supported various area organizations such as Palo Pinto Challenge, Strawn Home Delivered Meals, and the United Way of Palo Pinto County. The church has also operated the community food-pantry in Strawn for many years. “The loss of this church will be felt in Strawn, it’s a very sad time for our little town,” said Mary Crawford.
The vitality of a church depends not only on the congregation, but factors in the environment impact it as well. This church, like so many others, was founded at a time when families went to church, and there was nothing else to do on a Sunday besides worship. Generations of families lived in the same community and went to the same church. The vitality of many churches has been impacted by external factors. So many churches are experiencing this. Generations are passing on and there are no generations coming in to assume the same level of participation in the church.
“Our little church will live on.” Tamara Alison said. “It’s going to continue in the lives of these people, regardless of which church we go to. A little bit of our Strawn United Methodist Church is going to go out into other churches with us. This physical structure is ending, but the spirit of this church is not. The church is the people, not the building, and these people will go on worshiping and serving the Lord in new places and in new ways.”
In 2016 there were over 32,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States, almost one in every county of every state. That’s more local missional outposts than the US Post Office.
Every time we engage excitedly in conversation about new church starts, there is another half to that conversation that is not nearly so motivational: old church closures. Ministry is not only about birth and growth; it is also about sustained presence, a good life, and, eventually, death. Unless we recognize death, we cannot recognize resurrection. If we’re not willing to talk about church closures, then we fail to witness to our belief in the resurrecting power of Jesus Christ.
“The reality is that churches close all the time,” said Alan Alison, “even the churches in the New Testament are no longer in existence. As Christians, we know this but it doesn’t make it any easier to go through. God’s church doesn’t die away, even when individual churches do. People move, congregations age, communities change, but the work of the church will continue on beyond these walls, just as it always has.”
“We are going out as a congregation that still has life after death,” said Jennifer Elmore. “However, that doesn’t take away the grief we all feel.” Elmore, who is a life-long member of over 70 years, said she loves the intimacy and the openness with which members have shared their lives.
The United Methodist Church believes that church closure is theologically consistent with Christian faith, which teaches that death is followed by new life. Just as Jesus rose from the dead, so too dying congregations can give birth to new ministries, either by turning over their buildings to younger groups or by selling the property and funding new church plants or ministry projects through the proceeds. The FUMC of Strawn’s facility will return to the stewardship of the FUMC Conference on July 1 and will be maintained for a period of six months during which a new missional purpose for the facility will be sought.
Sandi Danna, long-time member and pianist at FUMC of Strawn, said, “It is a sad day for Strawn; however the lack of ministers all over the USA is going to damage more and more small town churches. Community support also is vital to keeping the church doors open. We did the best we could with our limited numbers. I am praying this beautiful building will be blessed with a new purpose to fill these pews to overflowing and bring a renewed spirit to Strawn in this beautiful place.”
Please come out and join us for our final service, to help us celebrate the legacy we feel that we leave here. Perhaps we will join our voices to sing an old favorite, Blessed Be the Tie that Binds. It starts out with “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above,” and we’ll finish with the fourth stanza which will sting a little bit: “When we are called to part, it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”