Carlisle Methodist Church merger raises questions

Interesting religion news today from my town (that’s Carlisle): a major merger of three Methodist churches.

I have written about mergers in this space recently. Most recently, Abundant Life Ministries and Maranatha Church of God in Christ are merging this spring if things go according to the plan.

But usually mergers are with smaller churches like these. For example, in January St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hanover, York County voted to merge with St. Paul Lutheran Church of McSherrystown, Adams County.

The reason? Because attendance at the latter church had dropped to about 20 people on a typical Sunday.

And attendance is the same reason Allison United Methodist, Grace United Methodist and First United Methodist voted to merge Sunday in Carlisle. But these are not small churches. In fact, they are some of the biggest, most beautiful churches in Carlisle.

I know — First United is across the street from my house. It’s wonderful church bells ring out every day at noon and 6 p.m.

But the reality is that attendance has dropped about 25 percent since 2003. The three churches are drew a combined average of 740 people to Sunday services in 2010.

A byproduct of that is church buildings that are no longer needed. I know someone who recently purchased a church in Mont Alto because he got a great deal. It sits empty as a place for storage.

The Catholic Church is busy trying to sell several churches in Philadelphia due to declining parishes.

I have done several stories of empty churches, as well as new churches and faith-based organizations looking for homes. Again, most are small organizations.

The Carlisle merger is a pretty big deal. Officials say they haven’t yet selected a “home church,” but the implication is obvious: the merged church will at some point want to shed building(s).

I just hope it isn’t the one in my neighborhood. I kinda like the bells.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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2 Responses to Carlisle Methodist Church merger raises questions

  1. Jerry Stuart says:

    As a member of First Church, I wanted to let you know that Allison, First, and Grace UM Churches are not simply joining in response to declining attendance. As you mentioned in your article, churches of many denominations are facing that same challenge. As large churches, Allison, First, and Grace are taking the bold step to be proactive partners in combining their talents and gifts to build what we dream to be a magnificent new mission and vision. Not an elaborate physical building per se but rather an outward facing mission and vision for Christ that will carry our faith forward to the next generation and beyond. Yes, it is a major undertaking with no guarantee of success. But the goal is a noble one and together we intend to make it a reality.

  2. John Shellenberger, pastor First United Methodist Church says:

    Greetings, Yes, it is a big deal in Carlisle…though attendance and the decline of attendance has been a consideration. THe drop in attendance did not bring us to the point of voting on a merger. The big picture is that we have been in a vision process for over a year. We have felt God calling us to a bigger vision one that builds bridges in our commmunity by sharing the love of Jesus Christ. It is the vision that drives the action. If it were only attendance then we might as well try some kind of gimmicks to increase attendance…but we have discerned a vision that calls forth greater commitment, greater expectation and greater connection with the community around us. By the way, since you live across the street, please accept this as an invitation to join us for worship.
    John Shellenberger

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