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United Methodist congregation in Ohio experiences challenges typical of small churches

At a time of megachurches, it can be easy to overlook the challenges that face small churches everywhere.

Struthers United Methodist Church, an Ohio congregation with a membership of 87 and average weekly worship attendance of around 35 to 40 people, recently told by local United Methodist Church officials that it will be permanently closed on May 21. The situation began last October, when church leaders met with their district superintendent to discuss reports that the congregation was struggling financially.

“It was explained to her that was not the case and the church was sound in the financial accounts,” Pastor Douglas Theobald said. We questioned the sources she had contacted to obtain the information, as she had not contacted any of the church committee who oversite the finances.”

From there, the district superintendent requested an overview of the last 10 years of Struthers’ operations, which included records on attendance, expenses and other issues.

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“This was set to begin in January of this year,” Theobald said. “A presentation was given by the district superintendent and her staff. It was clear that the meeting was turning hostile, as topics were discussed and repeated reminders of tasks not completed by the church where the focus.”

In late March, a charge conference was held to determine if Struthers should be closed. Although Theobald said that this conference was overwhelmingly opposed to closing the church, support for keeping the congregation open “seemed to fall on deaf ears.” After the charge conference, a district committee known as Land and Buildings held a meeting and voted in favor of closure, with the decision to close being told to the church last month.

“I believe this is not right,” Theobald said. “This is a small church that continues to serve the members and the community. It will never be a large church, as the community is only around 10,000. This whole process was unfair, the church was misled in the process would result in only closure.”

Theobald noted he and church members “no longer have any options but to close,” noting that because of the denomination’s “Trust Clause,” the building and funds belong to the UMC.

“The church is voting in the upcoming weeks to reform as a new church. We have received offers to meet in locations within our community, but not our church,” he said.

“The sad part of this is the UMC will sell our buildings and spend the monies received from something they never spent one dime building or maintaining. This church merged into UMC in 1968.”

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice

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