Oct. 10 will be a sad day for the remaining parishioners who have faithfully attended Summit United Methodist Church of rural Florence all of their lives. The final worship service will be conducted at 10 a.m. by the Rev. David Ragland of Peabody.
Located in Summit Township, the Summit church began as a United Brethren Church. It subsequently became part of the United Brethren Evangelical Church and then the United Methodist Church.
Early records have been lost, and the congregation’s numbers have dwindled considerably as families moved away and the children of those who stayed did likewise.
A look at the register on the wall reveals an attendance of nine people this past Sunday and an average of 14 during the past year. These loyal members dug deep into their pockets to keep the church going, but it finally became too much.
“We can’t afford to pay the bills anymore,” LaVonne Ammeter said.
Ragland has been ministering to the church congregation for more than four years. He is planning to give a sermon titled, “One Last Time,” based on Jesus’ last meeting with his disciples.
He will talk about the church’s closing but will emphasize that the church of Christ continues to march on.
“This church has fulfilled the purpose God called it to,” he will tell parishioners.
The congregation was organized in 1879. The church building, located at 40th and Vista roads northwest of Burns, was constructed in 1888. A parsonage also was constructed south of the church. Early baptisms took place in the creek south of the church.
The first wedding on record was that of Maurice and Essie Clark, Dorothy Widler’s parents. The ceremony was conducted in the parsonage.
Later marriages included Joyce and Frederick Barker, Doreen and Ronald Kirkpatrick, Sherol and Marvin Nightengale, Don and Reeta Gillet, Mary and Warren Olsen, and Donella and Ron Humphries.
Light fixtures installed in 1948 are still in use.
In June 1975, a tornado struck the church and moved it several inches off the foundation. Volunteers from the community moved it back and the congregation got together to give the church a facelift and make interior improvements.
The congregation celebrated its 105th anniversary in 1984. A church booklet prepared for the occasion listed ice cream socials, oyster and chili soup suppers, Christian Endeavor programs, revival meetings, Easter programs, and other events as things that had been enjoyed in the past but were no longer possible because already then the numbers were dwindling.
By 1984, the church had been served by 38 ministers. The Peabody United Methodist Church pastor has served the Summit church for many years, conducting services every other week.
In 1997, due to safety concerns, the bell was removed from the bell tower, where it had been placed in 1907, and was placed on a concrete base on the church grounds.
Ammeter, age 80, and two other women from the church shared memories of the church.
Ammeter said her mother and several other women served as church leaders. Her late husband, Sherwin, was involved in the project to remove the bell but died before it was completed. Her son, Stan, built the base for the bell.
Seventy-five-year-old Sherol Nightengale remembers the pot-bellied stove that stood in the middle of the church sanctuary.
“If you were not sitting close to it, the air was pretty cold,” she said.
Her mother was the church pianist when she was growing up. Nightengale’s great-grandfather, Thomas Clark, built the church pulpit. It is still in use.
With sadness in her voice, 72-year-old Doreen Kirkpatrick said, “I’m going to miss singing the old gospel songs.”
The church has no running water or rest rooms and will probably stand empty and unused in the immediate future, but no doubt, it will continue to bring back warm memories to those who graced its doors.