YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Bethlehem Lutheran Church has hosted many funerals over its 50 years but on Sunday, it hosted its final one; for itself.
Robin Brown has been the minister at Bethlehem Lutheran Church for the last five years. She will be its last.
“It’s just tough. It’s really tough for people. But we know God is doing a new thing. And god will continue to do a new thing,” said Brown.
More than 100 people were at Sunday’s final service. It was an unusual sight in a church that usually saw fewer than 25 people for Sunday mass.
Parishioners voted unanimously to close the church, due to finances and an aging congregation.
“Sometimes people come to a church, and they see people who are older than they are, and they don’t stick around,” said Rev. Abraham D. Allende.
Allende is the Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He performed the mass on Sunday. This is the first church he has had to close since being named Bishop in May.
“Our culture is very different these days. And the church is not central in people’s lives as it once was,” Allende said. “Sometimes people come to a church, and they see people who are older than they are, and they don’t stick around. I just want people to remember that God was here in this place. And God still is here. But it will take a different form as far as the body of Christ is concerned.”
Now that the church is closing, the building will be sold, with proceeds going to the Northeast Ohio Lutheran Synod. But for the people who worshipped and worked here, the memories will live on.
“I couldn’t let the church close without organ music. So I worked it out that I could be here,” added former resident and parishioner, Thomas Pavlechko.
Pavlechko was the church’s organist back in the 1980’s. When he found Bethlehem was without an organist, he flew from Austin, Texas to reunite with old friends.
“When we were all hugging each other and remembering things, it really felt like a family reunion more than just a job,” said Pavlechko.
It was a bittersweet end for a 50-year-old church, part of 202 years Bethlehem Lutheran has had worshippers in Youngstown.
“It’s been a journey. But it’s been a good journey. And I know god is able and God will continue to minister to his people,” said Brown.
The final notes were played, but the spirit lives on for Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Youngstown.