Falling attendance threatens church
Vail, CO Colorado
GYPSUM ” Gypsum resident Juanita Eaton, 80, has been attending the United Methodist Church in Gypsum since the time she was young enough to enroll in Sunday School. Now she’s concerned about her church’s future.
Margaret Collett, 79, started playing the organ for the church in the 1950s, then joined the congregation in the 1970s. She’s provided music for 13 different ministers, and has watched as the congregation dwindled. Some long-time members died; other active members moved away; and some just drifted away.
These days, the church is in transition. Five years ago, the Methodist churches in Gypsum and Eagle, which had previously been stand alone operations, were blended as the United Methodist Church of Eagle Valley. Officially, there’s one church with two sites. Both struggle financially.
The current pastor, Rev. Pete Meese, is moving soon to Cody, Wyo. where he will serve a larger church.
Like many churches of limited size, the local congregation is finding challenges in dealing with a dwindling membership and similarly dwindling revenues. The congregations cover the cost of salary, insurance, and housing for professional ministers.
Attendance in Gypsum has dwindled to the point there are regularly less than 10 parish members at the Sunday morning service. That’s forcing church leaders to search for some creative strategies for dealing with both economic reality and the very real needs of the remaining congregation.
Rumors that the church may be rented out to another entity have long-time parishioners worried.
“I really realize that it has been a losing battle for a long time … but we would just hate to see it close,” says Collett.
“I’m feeling bad about that,” says Eaton.
Judy Clock of Eagle, a church member who leads a committee on staff-parish relations, stresses that no decisions have been made yet, although the committee has been discussing the issue throughout the past winter, and has interviewed some entities interested in renting time or space in the church.
Meanwhile, arrangements have been made to keep the services going in the near future.
“The status of the church right now is kind of in limbo. We’ve had discussions with the council, and district superintendent. At this point, we want to sit down, and have more meetings with the Gypsum people,” Clock said. “The reality is we do have to come up with a creative plan.”
She notes that the Eagle church already leases out space to a preschool operation. During hunting season, the church showers are made available to hunters, for a price. For years, the congregation has raised funds by staging community chicken noodle dinners and craft bazaars.
Glenda Ulmer, district superintendent for United Methodist churches in Western Colorado and Utah, says that while the Gypsum situation is unique, many churches of limited size and resources find that keeping their operations going is a challenge.
“The cost of a professionally ordained minister … salary, insurance … keeps going up and up and up,” Ulmer said.
She stressed that any decisions made about either worship site will be made by local leadership.
“It’s about how you meet needs in an effective way. My understanding is that there is conversation, exploration, and dialogue,” Ulmer says.
Both Eaton and Collett say they would like to see the Gypsum church remain open. Eaton says she uses a cane to walk these days, and likely wouldn’t make the trip to Eagle to attend services. Collett fears that the Gypsum church may be lost in order to keep the one in Eagle going.
“There has to be a caring feeling between the Eagle and Gypsum sites,” she says.
Clock says the church council is sensitive to those concerns.
‘We are slowing down the whole process. We will meet with them, and come up with a plan that is fair to everybody,” she says.
She also had a suggestion for local residents.
“We would love to have people come to church, and enjoy the service at either the Gypsum or Eagle site,” she says.
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