2009-07-08 / Community & Local News

Methodist church decommissioned

By Paula W. Roy Special to Irregular

The 142-year-old United Methodist Church on Main Street in Phillips was decommissioned and returned to the Methodist Conference on June 23. (Paula Roy photo) The 142-year-old United Methodist Church on Main Street in Phillips was decommissioned and returned to the Methodist Conference on June 23. (Paula Roy photo) PHILLIPS — On Tuesday, June 23 at 1 pm the United Methodist Church on Main Street in Phillips was decommissioned at a special service conducted by Reverend Beverly Stenmark, Superintendent of the United Methodist Conference. Pastor Sue Kaplan-Burgess, pastor of the Phillips Shared Ministry, assisted in the ceremonies. Members of the church and the public in general were invited to attend the special service, share their memories and participate in the closing of this historic building.

According to church council members Mary Dunham and Barbara Gardiner, the decision to decommission and return the United Methodist Church building to the Methodist Conference was a very difficult and emotional one, but one that had been coming for quite some time.

Over the past several years, they related, it has become harder and harder for the Phillips Shared Ministry to maintain its three buildings, the Methodist Church and the Community House on Main Street, and the Congregational Church on the corner of Pleasant Street and Sawyer Street. In addition to maintenance issues, insurances, salaries, the rising costs of just about everything else involved in the upkeep of the properties forced the decision to give up the unused church. A decrease in active membership over the years also affected the final outcome.

At a monthly meeting back in the fall, members of the Shared Ministry voted to approve the decommissioning and return the church to the Methodist Conference, the actual owner of the building.

Inevitably, the Methodist Conference will sell the building. However, any gifts made by members with specific dedications in memory or in honor of loved ones will be preserved. Members are currently going through and collecting those things to make sure they are kept safely until a display can be put together for the Phillips Historical Society.

Several larger items, such as the kitchen appliances, will be distributed among other churches within the Methodist fellowship.

Nana Haines, another council member, expressed her feelings about the decommissioning, saying, "It's a sad thing. Even for folks like me who have only been here 20 years. I've been worshipping with people from both churches. It's hard to walk away. I can't imagine how it is for those who grew up in this church."

"Times are different," Barbara Gardiner added. "It's very much like what a family would do with (the family place) when it becomes too big and empty and too expensive to hang on to."

Mary Dunham agreed, saying, "We can't look back. We'll keep our memories, but we have to move forward. We have to think about the people who will be coming after."

The First Methodist Church in Phillips was a brick building constructed on Park Street, then considered the main street of town, near North Franklin Park in 1835. At the time it was believed this would become the center of the village.

In 1867, the present building was built in the lower part of the village and was then called the Methodist Episcopal Church. Sometime between 1938 and 1941, according to a History of Methodism in Phillips compiled by Alice Douglas, Marcia Gould, Maude Sparks under the advisement of Reverend F. W. Schuster, the union of the three main branches of Methodism - -the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant Church-- occurred, causing the reorganization of the Phillips church, including changing the name to The Methodist Church.

At its centennial celebration in September of 1967, the Methodist Church in Phillips had been over 100 years with its own minister. But times were changing even then. Within the next decade or so, problems similar to those being experienced by today's organization had to be faced. The result was the creation of the Phillips Shared Ministry, a combination of the Methodist Church and the Congregational Church bodies. Though each church kept its own membership rolls and its affiliation with the national organizations, they shared expenses, services and pastors, and alternated services season by season between the two buildings and with each new pastor, the Shared Ministry took another step towards unification. It was the unified body that had to make the final decision about the fate of the Methodist Church building.

Though there will no longer be a Methodist Church building in Phillips, council members are anxious to assure everyone that the decommissioning of the church will not end the Methodist presence in the community. Methodist members will still belong to the Shared Ministry and will continue their affiliation with the Methodist Conference. All will still be part of Shared Ministry meetings, which are held monthly and include a shared meal and discussion of church business. No one will ever be excluded, the council ladies stated emphatically.

Weekly services at the Congregational Church are on Sundays at 10 a.m. On the third Sunday of every month the congregation gathers after church for a potluck lunch at the Community House.

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