2017-05-19 / Front Page

Unity church to hold its last service


UNITY — Light reflects off the sheer white walls of the West Unity Community United Methodist Church like a halo on a sunny day. Though a small congregation has called the building home since 1859, before the end of the month, its spacious interior will be empty.

“All things have a season, even small community churches,” Pastor Joseph Saunders of the West Unity Community Church said.

After years of dwindling membership and off-and-on building issues, the church will open its doors one last time Sunday, May 28 for its final service. Members of the congregation as well as community members are invited to the church to celebrate its history during the service, followed by a potluck luncheon.

The church in Unity has seen a number of difficulties in recent years. The church first closed three years ago for a year due to declining membership. In September 2015, the church reopened for service. But only a week after its grand opening, the structure was deemed noncompliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, and the congregation instead met at the Unity Elementary School.

“The last few years have been a real struggle for this church family,” Saunders said.

Even finding church leadership in the small community was a challenge. Four members of the Hillsboro United Methodist Church in Hillsboro formed a Ministry Team along with Saunders as Pastor to staff the church. But with Saunders as the primary pastor for the Hillsboro church nearly an hour away from Unity, he will no longer retain his position as pastor for the congregation after the church closes.

“We had been traveling and helping the best we can, but it’s challenging,” Saunders said of the Ministry Team helping the church. “It’s been a wonderful experience. So we really look at this time of walking with this church family as something we can celebrate all that God’s done with them.”

Even without use of the historic building throughout 2016, the congregation still held many community-focused events, such as a mitten drive for charity, coffee houses and a spaghetti dinner for the town’s civil servants, aside from its regular services. But membership still did not increase.

“There comes a time with how the world is going right now for many small churches that they have to decide to either continue until they can’t continue anymore, or to take what they have and invest in different ministries,” Saunders said.

As a result, the congregation has instead decided that members will attend the First United Methodist Church in Claremont with Pastor Joanne Thomas instead of having their own church.

“This body, they’re very brave. They decided that they wanted to help others as much as they can, so they are taking the resources that they have and are wanting to work with Claremont. They’re going to share in those resources,” Saunders said.

Yet, even as members look forward to pooling their resources into a new congregation, Saunders said, it is difficult for many members to leave the small Unity church that they worked so long to improve.

“I think here in New England we are losing way too many of the little white churches,” said Gene Gould, a member of the Ministry Team from Hillsboro. “I am just dismayed and saddened by the closing of the West Unity Community Church, but I know that God’s will is being done and we don’t know his plans.”

The final service at the West Unity Community Church will begin at 11 a.m. on Sunday, May 28. All members of the congregation are invited to attend and share their memories about the church, Saunders said, but he also extends the invitation to the greater community.

“We are so thankful for all the years in ministry in West Unity. The time stop there has come. We take that as a sign of prayer in asking for God’s leading, and this is the answer,” Saunders said. “We have an opportunity to share this ministry in Claremont that is already taking some wonderful steps in serving the community.”

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Long article about membership

Long article about membership decline but no mention of membership numbers.
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