MONTGOMERY - "Go in peace. Serve the Lord." And that is just what the Christ Lutheran Church congregation will do even after its final service at 3 p.m. Sunday.
Whatever remains in the church, and the building itself, is for sale. Any profits that come from the sales will go into an endowment fund, which will be used to help various ministries in the area, Pastor Gunther Bernhardt said this week.
"The endowments are set up in perpetuity," he said. "Three hundred, 400, 500 years later, that still will be around."
Christ Lutheran Church, 50 E. Houston Ave in Montgomery, will hold its last service at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The decision to close the church at 50 E. Houston Ave. was determined by a majority in October because of low attendance and a building too large to maintain. About 20 to 30 people still attended services, but the numbers sometimes dwindled to less.
"There was a lot of soul searching and deliberation," Bernhardt said. "The decision was not made lightly."
The church began on Nov. 1, 1886, when 18 Lutheran friends met in a private home on Broad Street to organize a church.
Those friends raised the money and the new church was dedicated May 12, 1891. On Christmas of that year, the bell that now sits outside the building rang for the first time.
Closing a church, Bernhardt said, is like a person in the family dying and comes with stages of grief. Death is just another stage of life. Christ Lutheran Church had a long life, which he said should be celebrated.
In the 1960s, the wooden doors in the sanctuary sometimes had to be opened to allow for the overflow of people during service, especially during Christmas and Easter, but occasionally during regular services, too, Bernhardt said.
Even in the 1980s, the seats were filled with people.
The cycle of life for members will be broken. Church members were baptized, engaged in activities, got married and buried loved ones in the church.
"I regret that is not possible anymore," he said.
One church member, Bill Kahler, recalls when it was active, played the role of Sunday school teacher for 30 years, Sunday school superintendent, council president, council secretary and council treasurer.
Kahler started attending Christ Lutheran in the 1960s.
"When I first came here, it was a very active church," Kahler said. "If someone told me that many years ago I'd see the demise of the church, I wouldn't believe it."
When Kahler moved to the area, he made friends through the church. Those friends were ones that lasted through the years.
"There's a great deal of sadness," he said. "Tears have been shed and there are tears to be shed."
A lack of children is what causes a church to close, Kahler said. He preaches at other churches and is seeing the growing trend of an older population of churchgoers.
"When I go into church and I see no children, but a lot of gray hair and bald heads, I get sad," he said. "That's what happened here. The parents are not bringing their kids to church."
When Kahler started teaching Sunday school, each grade had its own class, as well as one for adults. As attendance decreased over the years, it became a class for kindergarten, junior high school, senior high school and adults.
Then it became just the adults who had a Sunday school class.
Rooms where Sunday school was taught still remain, but exist as little more than storage with paint buckets littering some of them.
Bernhardt said in the past decade, one of the church's major projects was an after-school program where they sometimes had more than 20 children participate with different activities.
The church also served as a host church for the food pantry. It now will be moved to the Lutheran "Brick" Church.
"We will move to something different," Bernhardt said. "We have to balance sadness and gratitude of things that happened. It's not just grief, but also celebrating."