BELLEFONTE, Pa .– A Pennsylvania church with a 221-year history has held its last service and is set to close at the end of the year due to declining membership and attendance.
Bellefonte First Presbyterian Church, which is almost as old as the market town itself, held the last scheduled service on Christmas Eve after welcoming generations of families over more than two centuries.
“There is such love within this congregation. We’ve all known each other for so long and we know each other’s weaknesses, ”church elder Candace Dannaker told the Center Daily Times. “I will miss our personality, our laughter and our joy of being together. And, of course, the faith aspect of sharing that with other like-minded people. “
The church was founded in 1800 by the same men who founded Bellefonte in 1795 when there were only 16 states and had two former governors of Pennsylvania among its members. The church met at the courthouse for nearly two decades, then in a stone building; the current structure was built shortly after the Civil War.
Dannaker estimated that the church had around 40 members before the pandemic, a number that has dropped to around 25, and had no in-person worship from March 2020 until Easter Sunday. When Dannaker joined Dannaker 34 years ago, she said, there were around 200 people in attendance then.
Pam Benson, 77, a member for 73 years, said that when she was born during World War II many businesses were closed on Sunday and few events were scheduled. She also believes that fewer parents insisted that their children attend church services and that churches were not always competitive in recruiting new members.
“It was so different. It’s just what you did. Unless you were really sick, that was exactly what you were doing, ”Benson said. “It’s just a change, it’s a progression. This is what happens. It’s not that I like it, but that’s how it is.
The 15,000 square foot church is scheduled to close for the last time on December 31. Dannaker said the future of the building has not been determined.
The video of the final service posted on the church’s Facebook site included references to “the pain of saying goodbye” but a reminder that “the challenges are nothing new to mankind” and saying that the message of ‘Christmas hope’ is just as timely and essential today as it was 2,000 years ago.
Before the final hymn, the members lit and raised candles with these words: “And the light broke the darkness. And hope is ours once again. And that light calls us to move forward, to remember the past, and to walk confidently into the future. And now go in the peace of Christ.