BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Dwindling attendance by an increasingly elderly congregation at a historic Alabama church has prompted the difficult decision to close its doors for good, with the final worship service held this Sunday after 182 years.
“There is a certain sadness,” said Sharon Eich, lay pastor of Five Mile Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. She said the congregation “has been such a beacon to the community for so long,” al.com reported Friday.
There were about 40 church members when Eich became lay pastor in 2002. Now it’s down to about nine.
“Most of the congregation is in their 80s,” she said. “It’s just time.”
The white clapboard church, complete with a bell tower, was built in 1880. However, Eich said it holds just 30 people and lacks modern amenities such as air-conditioning or bathrooms.
When the congregation was founded in 1841 — 30 years before the city of Birmingham — it was in a rural area. Birmingham has since expanded, bringing the church within city limits.
Before Sunday’s final service, there will be a historical presentation by University of Georgia Professor John Knox, son of the late Rev. Harold Knox who led the congregation from 1963-1999.
The church and an adjoining Civil War-era cemetery will be placed in a trust. A 1958 brick sanctuary and fellowship hall will be owned by a Presbyterian administrative unit, and will likely be sold to another congregation.
“It’s such a wonderful, loving congregation,” Eich said, “that has been a blessing in my life.”