Monday, July 27, 2009

Church's closing brings tears to its membership

INWOOD—Bethel United Methodist Church in Inwood may soon close its doors for good, but the eternal flame is still burning.

Members voted to discontinue services at the 125-year-old church during a congregational meeting on July 15.

“It’s very sad,” said Evelyn Brown, who has been attending Bethel United for 65 years.

For Brown, the building holds a special place in her heart, as both of her parents were members and her grandfather served as pastor during the 1930s.

“I finally just burst down and cried,” said Jan Hamann, who’s husband, the late Kenneth Hamann, served as pastor for five years.

“It’s such a shame, it’s such a beautiful little church,” said Karen Johnson, whose extended family has been attending the Inwood church most likely since its inception in 1884.

The three long-time members are not the only ones who have been disgruntled by the closure.

“Some local people who don’t even belong feel bad, but they realize it has to be done,” Brown said.

The church’s congregation, which has been comprised primarily of older community members for some time, has been facing a steady decline as members have passed on.

Coupled with a not-so-great administration a few years back, the building has reached a point of disrepair, with water leaks, ruined floors and outdated fixtures.

When current pastor Steve Swenson arrived in 2006, Hamann said Bethel United only had 10 members.

To keep the church open, congregation members held benefits, bake sales, waffle breakfasts and banquets to even pay for Swenson’s salary.

“It just reached a point where attendance was not enough to carry on or finance anything,” Hamann said. “Something had to be done.”

Which is why, although Hamann, Brown and Johnson may be saddened by the decision, they agree that the church needs to be closed.

“We don’t even have enough members to pay a minister’s salary,” Johnson said.

Hamann said only four people attended Bethel United’s final Sunday service on July 19. She, Brown and Johnson have all begun attending Doon United Methodist Church, where they will be formally welcomed into the congregation during a ceremony in August.

Besides attending the Doon church, they said members also have the option of transferring to Seeds of Faith, the United Methodist affiliated church in Lester.

To honor members and former pastors and community members who have remained dedicated to Bethel United, or simply want to say goodbye, Swenson will hold a special celebration and service at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, at the church, located at 311 S. Oak St. in Inwood.

“Everyone is invited,” Brown said.

The Iowa United Methodist Conference Board of Ordained Ministry will take ownership of the church and surrounding property on Aug. 1. The board has no plans for the church yet, and Johnson said it probably will not make any decision until at least September, due to the final celebration.

Brown said that Bethel United is not the only United Methodist church the board has to worry about.

At the board’s annual conference June 4-7, it voted to close five other Methodist churches in the state — Pleasant Prairie United Methodist Church in Chariton, Morrow Memorial Heights United Methodist Church in Marshall County, Capitol Heights United Methodist Church in Des Moines, Jefferson Center United Methodist Church in Stuart and South Bethel United Methodist Church in Manly.

Although the decision was expected, members still are sad to see the church, especially the intricate stained-glass windows, go.

“The town has said it’s the prettiest church in our area because of its age and its stained glass windows,” Brown said. “It would be a great historical place, but to raise money to keep it open would be too much.”

Following the Sunday celebration on Aug. 16, with the exception of the numerous memorials donated to the church by families in the congregation, all if its belongings will be turned over to the Iowa United Methodist Church, and the eternal flame will burn no more.

This article appeared in the July 25, 2009 edition of The N'West Iowa REVIEW.

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