Austin church closing its doors

Published 3:25 pm Saturday, July 17, 2010

After 52 years in Austin, Fellowship United Methodist Church will hold its final Sunday service on Aug. 29 after the congregation voted to disband earlier this month.

The decision was initiated when congregation member Virginia McClary contacted Rev. Rufus Campbell, the District Superintendent of the Southern Prairie church district, on behalf of the Fellowship congregation about the possibility of closing the church. A meeting of the entire congregation was held on July 8, with a final vote resulting in a 24 to 11 decision to close the church.

One of the factors leading to this decision was dwindling membership, which prevented Fellowship church from being able to afford to hire a pastor for more than quarter time.

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“It’s a sad occasion, not only for this particular congregation, but also for the Annual Conference as a whole,” Campbell said. “This church is where people married, buried their loved ones and matured in their faith. So, every church closing is extremely significant.”

The church was originally formed in 1958 and held its services in Neveln Elementary School. The church didn’t move to its current church location, at 1811 7th Ave. SE, until May 5, 1963. At the first service in its current location, over 300 people attended. Fellowship church now has an active membership of around 35 people.

No official decision has been announced yet as to whether the Fellowship congregation will collectively transfer to another church or if each congregation member will disperse to a church of their individual choosing. The church membership of the congregation will be held in the district superintendent’s officer until a decision is made.

“It’s very ambiguous,” said Betty Benner, a Fellowship church member. “The Methodist church will hold your membership for nine months to a year. They hold your membership and you in turn tell them where you want to go.”

Rev. Campbell said that Fellowship has a trust clause with the Methodist church, so that the ownership of all the church’s properties will be given to the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The proceeds from the properties are then used to establish new churches.

“I’m saddened that the church voted to discontinue, but I believe it is a two-edged sword. I believe that new life will emerge out of this,” said Campbell.

The church’s final Sunday service will be held on Aug. 29. Former Fellowship pastor Rev. James Baker will be giving the sermon.