King's Chapel 1

King's Chapel United Methodist Church, which traces its roots to 1802, was decommissioned Sunday as part of a four-church merger.

Jolene Bees’s tenure as a member of King’s Chapel United Methodist Church wasn’t a long one.

The 12-year-old Hermitage resident was confirmed shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday. An hour later, the congregation no longer existed.

The church, which traces its roots back to 1802, is part of a merger of four New Castle area United Methodist churches that officially will become Grace United Methodist Ministry on Wednesday. Worship sites now known as First and Croton United Methodist churches will remain open. King’s Chapel and Epworth will be closed and put up for sale.

Epworth will have its decommissioning service Wednesday. King’s Chapel deconsecrated its building Sunday, during which time Jolene received her confirmation. Even though King’s Chapel no longer exists, she will be a member of the United Methodist Church.

She was prepared to be welcomed into Kings Chapel and to say goodbye to it on the same day.

“We all knew this would happen,” said Jolene, who turns 13 in August. “We all understood that this church was not going to be here forever. I wish we could stay here longer, but that’s just God’s calling for me to go somewhere else.”

She recalled all the friends she has made at King’s Chapel, as well as the many church dinners at which she worked.

“We had so many people,” she said. “I remember hearing the stories of how when there was Christmas Eve service they had to bring in chairs and put them back behind the pews. These days, we don’t even have enough to fill the pews.”

Nonetheless, she took the closing philosophically.

“I’m sad to leave the church that I was basically raised in,” she said, “but it’s also the start of a new beginning of my life through God and just life in general.”

For longtime member Suzanne Munson, Sunday wasn’t the first time she had to bid farewell to a King’s Chapel church building.

She recalled Palm Sunday, 1962, when the congregation walked to the present structure from the older one it was leaving behind just down the road, at the still-existing King’s Chapel Cemetery.

“But we were happy then,” she said. “We’d been in that building a long time, too, but we’d outgrown it. If it rained real hard, there was water in the basement where we had our Sunday school class.

“We walked from that church to the new church. I remember, not everybody, but all the kids, we were waving our palms. It was exciting.”

By comparison, Sunday was a time to recall all the family weddings and her children’s baptisms, and to know she wouldn’t be coming back again.

“I’m fine with it,” she said, “but I’m sad.”

Shirley Weber’s family ties to King’s Chapel go back almost has far as the church itself. Seven generations have worshipped there, including her great-grandparents and her great-granddaughter, Chloe, who was in attendance Sunday.

“We really had close friends throughout our time there,” she said in a letter to The News. “Youth groups were fun and we had dinners to build a new church. We had strawberry socials. The church was booming then.

“You can’t forget all the people who influenced our lives and children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It will be a very sad day for us to see the church decommissioned.”

Judy Barron, who was married in the church in 1963, recalled the many people who once attended KIng’s Chapel. That included her daughter, the Rev. Jodie Barron Smith, now superintendent of the Franklin District of the United Methodist Church of Western Pennsylvania who returned to give the sermon at Sunday’s decommissioning.

“It’s so emotional, to say the least,” said Smith, who left the church in 1999 to answer the call to ministry. “But I really wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s just been unfortunate with the COVID-19 that they really haven’t had a good ending. This is the first time they’ve been in the building since March.

“It’s just too bad they haven’t been able to spend the last few months celebrating and reminiscing. We have to cram all of that into one hour today, and that’s hard, very hard.”

Smith took her sermon from Jesus’s parable about two men, one who built his house on the sand the other who built his on a foundation of solid rock. The second man’s home withstood a storm and floodwaters, but the first man’s domicile was washed away. Jesus encouraged his listeners to embrace and follow his teachings to ensure a solid foundation of faith.

Smith endorsed that teaching, but said the importance of the building that was being left behind should not be discounted.

“It has been a building where the foundation of faith for countless people, myself included, was established,” she said from the pulpit. “We might philosophically say that it’s just a building; the church is the people. And I confess that I have said that more times than I can count.

“I believe that those words are true, but I also have to admit that they ring kind of hollow this morning. This building is full of memories.”

She urged the congregation to reflect on all the sermons, baptisms, hymns, marriages, funerals, prayers and communion observances that had taken place during the church’s 58 years of existence.

“I like to think that we carry those sermons, that we carry those life events, that we carry those people with us, even when we no longer worship in this place,” she said.

Smith spoke of children making sandcastles at the beach, and how the lifespan of such structures is fleeting; they are swept away by the next high tide.

“Our lives are filled with times when our dreams, our visions and our hopes are swept away by the next tide or the next storm,” she said. “But our faith doesn’t have to be. We can afford to lose a dream, but we can’t afford to lose our faith.

“We are mourning the loss of a dream. We never thought we’d live to see this building be anything but King’s Chapel United Methodist Church … This has been home. This will always be home. We are leaving the home of our faith. We grieve, we mourn, but we are not without faith, we are not without hope and we are not without a future.”

d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com

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