by Lisa Tome
Episcopalian Bill Curry attended Tome Memorial United Methodist Church at two different stages of his life – weekly when he was a kid and regularly for the last 15 years into his 80s.
Curry’s historic church, which opened in 1872, will close September 30.
"They just don't have money to continue," said Port Deposit Mayor Wayne Tome, Sr. The church changed pastors earlier this month. Dr. David Burke, who serves at Mt. Pleasant Church, will be the last pastor at Tome UMC.
"We intend to keep it open until the end of September. We will have a luncheon at the end of the last service unless something extraordinary happens," said Curry, who explained that he re-joined Tome because Port Deposit doesn't have an Episcopal Church. He also went to Tome as a child for Sunday school.
"That church has the second largest pipe organ on the east coast. We've been thinking what to do with the church. We're in limbo. None of us have ever closed down a church...If we marketed it maybe the downstairs could be a kitchen and the upstairs a church. Maybe a caterer would want it," Curry said.
He said that 14 people currently attend Sunday services. "We've lost six or eight members in the last two years," said Curry. "They died. It's very costly to heat and cool the church. During very hot and very cool weather, services are held not in the church but at the fellowship hall across the street.
"It's not so much the money. You need the money and the attendance. You need people to draw from. It seems a shame you know. If it remains unoccupied, it doesn't take long for a building to deteriorate," said Curry. "People in town just aren't interested in the church. We don't have a band playing rock 'n roll to Jesus Christ. That's our problem."
Rev. Joe Archie is the District Superintendent for the Wilmington District of the United Methodist Church. He explained that the church trustees at Tome UMC will make some decisions. "The local church could make some decisions," said Rev. Archie. There was talk of the church selling the fellowship hall to the town. Mayor Tome said there are no plans for that at this time.
"Churches are organizations based on people. It's about making disciples of Christ. Tome has been in serious decline for years. It had a glorious congregation in its day. The town has had some decline and the church had a failure to reach the community. It was a slow decline over time. It didn't happen rapidly. They (Tome congregation) said a year ago that they had enough money to last a year. That's exactly where we are. They are done," said Archie.
He said it's not uncommon for churches to close.
"Thousands of churches close across the country every year. Even churches in well populated areas fail to connect. Churches get inward focused and don't do such a great job of reaching people. Main line churches across the U.S. are in serious decline. Some have found ways to reach the people. There has been a slow decline in Christian churches in America overall. More conservative churches are now in serious decline," he said.
"One of the concerns at the meeting was that the legacy of Jacob Tome is losing influence in the area. The church doesn't have many people and they failed to draw people in. There's so much history and a heritage and it's coming to an end," Rev. Archie said.