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United Methodist Church to close, final service to be held on May 19

Each fall, the First United Methodist Church would lay out hundreds of pumpkins for the fall season. File Photo/Max Bowen

Citing a declining membership and limited finances, the First United Methodist Church in North Attleborough has announced its intention to close after more than 150 years.

According to a statement posted to the church’s web site, May 19 has been chosen as the final service. This date is also Pentecost Sunday on the church calendar, a time to commemorate the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ. 

“It would be wonderful to fill the pews with friendly faces who were a part of our church in the past,” said long-tenured member Joan Hutson in the statement.

The choice to close the church—located at the corner of Route 1 and Hoppin Hill Avenue—came after a series of meetings between the New England Church Conference and First United Methodist Church. During these meetings, the dwindling membership and lack of financial capacity were seen as the main reasons for the closure. Following the final service, the building keys will be turned over to the United Methodist conference in June.

The final worship service will be held at 10:40 a.m., presided over by District Superintendent Rev. Megan Stowe. The doors will then close for the final time.

It should be noted that there are several other United Methodist Churches in the surrounding area, and the the decision seemed the best for the remaining members to continue serving God in other places. 

“It’s going to be a little emotional, but it’s also going to be like we did God’s work and it’s just time to move on, time to go do God’s work in another Church, and for the rest of our lives,” Hutson said.

Hutson encouraged others to share their memories of the church during the final service. Everyone is welcome, including current and former members or those who had family members who were a part of the church.

“We would like to have them come and if they have pictures of events that happened at the church, they can bring them for the day to share,” Hutson said. “We know that there’s a lot of history in the church and a lot of people with family ties. If they would like a chance to say goodbye, this will be it.”

The church’s founding 

According to the announcement, originally founded as the Free Evangelical Church, members met in Barden’s Hall until 1870, when a building was dedicated at the southeast corner of North Washington and East streets. This would serve the congregation throughout the switch to the Methodist Conference in 1907 and through 18 pastors. The building saw visits from then-Massachusetts Gov. Frank G. Allen and housed an organ donated to the congregation by Andrew J. Carnegie. In 1938, a category five hurricane weakened the church steeple, resulting in its removal. The steeple’s bell was kept and currently resides in the garden on the left side of the front entrance.

A congregation of 225, under then-Pastor Rev. Ray I. Martin, spearheaded the design and construction of the current church between 1961 and 1963. Two sister owners of the Arns apple orchard on the hill sold the land to the congregation because they felt their father would like a church on top of the hill. The laying of the cornerstone of the original structure took place on April 28, 1963.

In 1986, Rev. Dr. John E. N. Knight became the 22nd minister to the congregation, and under his direction, an educational wing, extended sanctuary and fellowship hall—later named for him—were dedicated on Dec. 3, 1989. The congregation of 329 members and non-members pledged $160,000 toward building a $500,000 addition. However, much of those funds would never come to fruition. 

In 1990, the first budget deficit for First UMC was presented at the annual church conference. The congregation had fallen to 54 pledging tithers, and Dr. Knight and his wife Hazel decided to retire from the area. As Rev. John L. Camp began his pastorate on the hill, one of his first motions was to erect a large sign at the front of the church grounds.

The church in recent decades underwent several mortgage refinances, before finally making its final payment on the property in February of 2022. A mortgage-burning ceremony was held on the front lawn that April.

Committed to the community

In recent years, the congregation opened its doors and parking lot to various recovery groups. The pumpkin patch, a mainstay of the fall season, was held on the front lawn during each of the last 16 Octobers, and most recently, a little free-standing food pantry was set up on the Route 120 side.

According to the church’s announcement, what happens with the pantry, the recovery groups,  pumpkin patch and church bell will likely depend on what happens with the church itself. Its fate will be decided by the United Methodist conference.

“Some really important life events for many people in the town of North Attleboro and surrounding areas have happened here,” said Lauren Caisse, chair of the church staff-parish relations committee. “It is important to recognize the church services, baptisms, weddings, funerals, and all the other celebrations that took place here.

“Even if we say that a church is not a building, it’s a people – there are still a lot of memories wrapped up in that.”

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