At 3:00 p.m. on November 18, 2007, St. Peter Lutheran Church, Easton, celebrated its final service as a congregation. Nearly 200 people filled the sanctuary.
In September, the congregation voted 23 to 4 to join with St. John Lutheran Church in downtown Easton and sell their 131-year-old church building.
The 200 at worship on November 18 was far more than the 30 or so that gathered on recent Sunday mornings. Membership at St. Peter's had declined to under 50.
"Closing a church is a difficult decision," said the Rev. Virginia Goodwin, pastor of the congregation for the past three years. "It's an unusual situation," but it could become more common as the number of church-goers dwindle.
Two other churches in the synod have closed since 1996, in Raubsville and in Mahanoy City. Unlike St. Peter's, however, they did not merge with another church. They simply closed.
"That's one of the remarkable things about this," said the Rev. Catherine Ziel, executive associate of the bishop. ''This church decided to become proactive about it. They have demonstrated a way to do this with dignity and grace.''
When the church building is sold, 70 percent of the proceeds will be donated to St. John Lutheran Church and the rest will be distributed to nine other charities.
The church's contents, except for liturgical items, were given to Bridge of Peace Community Lutheran Church in Camden, N.J., which serves 700 meals per month to the poor. (See the letters from the church
to Bishop Strobel and to Pastor Goodwin in this issue of
Partners in the Spirit.)
On December 2, those members of St. Peter who joined St. John ceremoniously knocked on the door at St. John. The doors opened, the people of St. John's welcomed them. St. Peter members who had carried liturgical items out of the old church on November 18 now carried them into their new home. Each member of St. Peter was met by a member of St. John, who helped them put the Bible, cross, and candles in place.
It was truly a celebration of new life!