Church: Neillsville United Methodist (Dissolving - 2013)

Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon

Surnames: Wood, O’Neill, Brown, Cady, Lambert, Petkovsek

----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 1/16/2013

Neillsville United Methodist (Dissolving – 30 June 2013)

Neillsville United Methodist Church Dissolving

The Neillsville United Methodist Church celebrated its 150th Anniversary in 2008. The congregation recently voted to dissolve and close the church in June of 2013. (Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)

The Neillsville United Methodist Church congregation has gone from celebrating their 150-year anniversary in the fall of 2008 to voting recently to close the church at the end of June 2013.

The Methodists were the first denomination to hold religious services and build a church in Clark County.

In 1847, a circuit rider, the Rev. R. R. Wood, first preached at the home of James O’Neill. In 1856, a circuit called the Alma Circuit was organized and Rev. Brown was appointed, and Neillsville was one of the charges in the circuit.

In 1858, a circuit rider, Rev. Cady, organized a congregation, the beginning of the Methodist Episcopal Church. A church building was constructed in 1869 at the corner of 4th and Court Streets on land given by the James O’Neill family.

The frame building was later moved to the north end of the lot and a brick church was erected in 1895 on the original site. This building has been remodeled several times and is still used as the sanctuary. In 1970,the frame building was removed so an educational unit could be constructed on the north side to adjoin the church.

The first parsonage was the house just west of the Old Armory on 4th Street. After that, the house at 214 Grand Avenue was used as a parsonage for many years.

In 1933, faithful member Hays Lambert presented his home at 205 4th Street to the church for the use of the pastor’s family and it has served in that capacity ever since.

Records indicate the Neillsville United Methodist Church started with five members. On some recent Sundays, not many more than five people have been sitting in the pews for worship.

The church has struggled for several years with an aging congregation, loss of members, inactive members and inability to meet the budget.

In October 2011, the administrative board agreed to a Paragraph 213 Assessment. The assessment is a conference program for a local church to gather the appropriate information necessary for assessing the future of a local congregation for effective ministry. The whole process is designed to be a self-assessment.

The assessment included looking at the following: Present ministries of the congregation; number of leaders and style of leadership (how many people in the congregation are ready, and willing to assume significant leadership in the church); growth potential of the surrounding community; fiscal and facility needs; distance from other United Methodist Churches; the number and size of churches of other denominations in the community; and other items that may impact the church’s ability to fulfill the mission of the church.

The assessment included a survey of the church’s members, friends of the church and community members.

The Paragraph 213 Assessment determine ed the following: a prolonged loss of participation, attendance and active membership; decline in willingness and enthusiasm of church leadership due to small numbers (many persons feel overburdened, and the aging congregation makes it difficult for everyone to continue to serve as they have in the past); the small active membership; the amount of the annual budget and the amount that people are able/willing to give to the church is on a steady decline; continued pattern of not paying apportionments is a concern; the age of the parsonage/church will likely need some maintenance in the short term and long term; the increased population of Amish and Mennonite families lessen the number of persons to attend other churches; other things are being made a priority over church programs for the youth – particularly community sporting events held Sunday mornings; and a loss or lack of spiritual focus, energy and direction.

The congregation held several meetings to consider the Paragraph 213 Assessment and to discern the future of the Neillsville United Methodist Church. The congregation gave consideration to a cooperative parish with other Methodist churches (Loyal and York Center have opted to not consider a cooperative parish at this time.)

Options were explored with other Methodist churches. A community shared ministry with local ECLA churches was considered, along with dissolving Neillsville and merging with the Granton Methodist Church.

None of these options were deemed feasible at this time.

The Neillsville Methodist Church held a church conference meeting to determine the future of the church, and the vote was to close the church, effective June 30, 2013.

The congregation has been celebrating the many ministries it has provided as the members prepare for closure: Tuesday morning Bible study; Sunday School; Community Thanksgiving Dinner; Korean Exchange; Crossroads fundraiser/donation to Campus Crusade; food stand at the horse sale; varied community breakfasts/dinners, including pancake, soup/salad, and the fame feed, plus funeral lunches.

The decision to close was extremely difficult as many members were baptized, confirmed and married in the Neillsville United Methodist Church.

Spokesperson Barb Petkovsek said perhaps Ecclesiastes 3:1 summed it up the best: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”

That thought brings some solace to these difficult decisions and sadness, Petkovsek said.




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