Historic 182-year-old Alabama church closes its doors due to dwindling attendance

Screengrab/NBC News affiliate WVTM

After 182 years of operation, a historic church in Birmingham, Alabama, held its final service before closing its doors for good, citing dwindling attendance numbers as the reason. 

The Five Mile Presbyterian Church held its final service on Sunday. Following the closure, the church’s original building and cemetery will be placed in a trust to maintain the building as a historical site, as NBC News affiliate WVTM 13 reported. 

Sharon Eich, the lay pastor of Five Mile Presbyterian Church, said in an interview with the local news station that there is a “certain sadness” to the church's closure. Eich has been at the church since 2002, WVTM added. 

“It has been a blessing in my life over the years,” Eich said. She highlighted some of the church’s community outreach efforts, including First Light, a ministry that creates a nurturing community for homeless and abused women. 

When Eich began serving as a pastor at the church, the congregation had around 40 people, and by the time of the church’s closure, that number was down to nine. 

Walter Chesser, a former member of the church, recalled that he and his sister started attending the church around the late '40s and early '50s. After worshiping at the church for decades, Chesser and his family must now find a new church to join, which he hopes will be Presbyterian. 

“It’s sad to be in the group that says we are closing,” Chesser told WVTM. 

Eich told that many members have passed away or started living in nursing homes and are no longer able ot attend services. University of Georgia professor John Knox, the son of the Rev. Harold Knox, said the congregation members had “distinctive personalities.” 

“Their task in life was to help others,” Knox said. “It was always about faith that did things.”

The professor delivered a historical presentation during the church’s final Sunday service. The congregation of the historic church was founded in 1841, predating the city of Birmingham by 30 years. The church expanded, and in 1880, the white clapboard wooden church was built. 

By the time of the church’s closure, the building could hold 30 people and did not have any modern amenities, such as air-conditioning or bathrooms. Eich noted that the building also did not have any heat or running water.

Regarding the church and an adjoining Civil War-era cemetery, the plan is to place that in a trust. The Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, an administrative unit, will own the 1958 brick sanctuary and fellowship hall, which will likely be sold to another congregation, according to Eich. 

The 182-year-old church in Alabama is not the only historic church that recently closed its doors due to dwindling attendance. 

As The Christian Post previously reported, members of Christ Church UMC in Southwick, Massachusetts, voted in May 2022 to permanently disband the congregation on July 1 of that year. 

When the church opened in 1816, it consisted of just eight members who would meet in their homes and district schoolhouses. Methodist ministers known as “circuit riders” traveled by horseback to preach to various towns.

Over the years, the community expanded and grew in size. However, church officials accepted around 2019 that they were at the “end of an era,” citing an aging population and diminishing numbers. 

Carol Jones, who was christened at the church and whose brother served as a treasurer for 40 years, told Mass Live that she foresaw the church’s end after younger people moved away. 

Another member, Carol Locke, who had been a part of the church for 22 years, agreed. Locke said that much of the revenue-generating work of the church required younger people whom the church didn’t have enough of anymore. 

“We are a very old congregation. Most of us are over 80 and we can’t do the potluck dinners and the craft fairs and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “It has been (a big part of her life), but unfortunately, I think the time has come.”

The church’s final Sunday service consisted of 30 people, closing after 206 years. Following the church’s closure, the Rev. Ken Blanchard decided that it was time to retire. 

“The time has come for this congregation of Christ’s holy church to disband and take leave of this building,” he said during the church’s last worship service. “It has served our holy faith well. It is fitting, therefore, that we should take leave of this consecrated house, lifting up our hearts in thanksgiving for this common store of memories. … This is my farewell to pastoral service.”

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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