GRAMMER – It’s no secret that COVID-19 has hit small rural churches across American particularly hard over the past few years.
Several were already having attendance and financial difficulties before the pandemic struck in early 2020.
A study released by Lifeway Research of 34 Protestant denominations and groups across the U.S. revealed that 4,500 churches closed in 2019 – the year before the coronavirus spread globally.
In Bartholomew County, one of the latest houses of worship to announce an upcoming closing is the 114-year-old Grammer Presbyterian Church, 5333 S. County Road 1000E.
When the Rev. Amy Artis began preaching at the Rockcreek Township church in June, 2019, the services were attracting eight to 10 congregation members each week, she said.
“With that few, it is hard to sustain a church,” Artis said. “The congregation has talked about closing it for years, but it wasn’t an easy decision.”
Choices became clearer after one of the church’s most prominent members, Martha Ann Jaquess, died on Nov. 25, 2000, Artis said. Another prominent leader had to give up his responsibilities after he was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, she added.
“We did the best we could,” Artis said. “But I think that not being able to meet together, to be involved in a mission together, and to not be in fellowship together has really hurt a lot of churches.”
One effort to hold the church together involved staging parking lot services, with the services broadcast through an FM radio station, the pastor said.
But after the church reopened to conventional services earlier this year, Artis said the congregation had dwindled down to about three. She added the vote to close the church was taken in September.
So the Grammer Presbyterian Church – organized by the town’s women and the former Donaldson Presbyterian Church on Jan. 11, 1907 – will conduct its final service on Sunday at 10:45 a.m.
“You wonder and ask yourself what you could have done differently,” said church elder Doug Denny. “In our monetary donations, you give what you can and you try to be faithful in that. But you are still limited by the financial obligations you have in your home life.”
For the complete story, see Saturday’s Republic.