For the second time in four days, a historic Lawrence County church will close for good on Wednesday night.
Epworth United Methodist Church, located on the point where Butler Avenue and East Washington Street intersect, has scheduled its decommissioning service for 6 p.m.
Epworth is one of four New Castle-area United Methodist Churches that, also on Wednesday, will merge to form the Grace United Methodist Ministry. The 146-year-old congregation is joined in the move by King’s Chapel — which was decommissioned Sunday — First and Croton United Methodist churches. The latter two buildings will remain open as ministry worship sites.
The Rev. Eric Park, superintendent of the Butler District of the United Methodist Conference of Western Pennsylvania, and Pastor Bill Lavelle will preside over Epworth’s final chapter.
For Lavelle, it will be the second church he has pastored to be decommissioned in less than a year. On July 7, 2019, he led the final service at 130-year-old Wesley United Methodist Church on West Washington Street. That congregation was a victim of the same problems of declining enrollment and spiraling expenses that prompted this week’s four-church merger.
For Park, Wednesday’s service will be the second deconsecration gathering in less than a week. He attended Sunday’s final service at King’s Chapel, where he reminded worshippers that “Even though we hold in our hearts grief today, the best part, the good news is … that firm foundation doesn’t stop being a foundation when this building stops being a United Methodist Church. That firm foundation gets lived out in the Christ-honoring lives that you continue to live.”
And it won’t just be individuals who will carry Epworth’s legacy out into the community. The church has voted to disperse $79,600 from its endowment fund among various community projects.
•Grace United Methodist Ministry parsonage, $10,000
•Laura Colvin’s “Game Changer” ministry, $5,000
•Brian Rice’s “Son of the City” initiative, $5,000
•New Visions for Lawrence County, $7,500
•New Life Baptist Church Food Bank, $20,000
•Habitat for Humanity, $7,500
•United Way Cascade Park swimming pool project, $5,000 (although city council apparently halted this project last week)
•Eastbrook Mission Barn, $7,500
•Feed My Sheep, $5,000
•Father Denny Bauer’s food ministry with bus tickets and food vouchers, The Church Community Assistance Program, $3,600
Epworth also will give $5,000 from its memorial fund to the Ruth M. Smith Center.
Epworth United Methodist traces its roots to 1874, when some members of First Methodist in downtown New Castle left to start a church on the East Side. They purchased property on Pearson Street and held outdoor services until a building was erected in 1875.
The initial church was destroyed by fire in 1884, and a new church with the name Epworth Methodist Episcopal Church opened on the site in 1886. Additions were made in 1894 and 1911, but the church soon began to build what is its present home at the triangle of East Washington Street and Butler Avenue. Ground was broken on Nov. 10, 1929, the cornerstone laid on July 27, 1930, and the church opened on July 12, 1931.
The former church, which was sold to what was then First Pentecostal Church (now First Assembly of God) still stands at the corner of Pearson and Epworth streets.