Membership decline leads to closing of St. Peter’s Church
By DEB WUETHRICH
Members of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church recently received a letter from their priest, the Rev. Robin Smith, confirming that one of the community’s first churches will close following services on Christmas Eve.
The church was established in 1833, with a cornerstone laid in 1832, by the Rev. William Narcissus Lyster, an Irishman who had emigrated to America, who is said to have named the Irish Hills because they remindedhim of his homeland. Lyster was invited to the settlement by Musgrove Evans, J.W. Brown, and George Spofford and founded the first Episcopal Church west of the Alleghenies. The church will close its doors after marking just over 177 years in the Tecumseh community.
The original colonial St. Peter’s with its familiar pillars was torn down in the 1960s and then the present structure at 313 N. Evans Street was built.
In a letter to the Bishop and Diocesan Council, Rev. Robin Smith, who accepted a call to the area a couple of years ago when Father John Lohmann retired, outlined several factors that contributed to the decision by the St. Peter’s Vestry and congregation.
“After a prayerful and deliberate process, and consultation with the Rev. Lisa Gray, the Vestry has determined that St. Peter’s Episcopal Church no longer has a viable ministry in this place,” Rev. Smith wrote.“In making this decision, the Vestry utilized the characteristics of a vital congregation provided by Canon Gray and discovered that, with the exception of the area of worship, we simply have too few people to go on.”
The letter pointed out that the situation was not a recent occurrence, since the active congregation has been declining since 2006. Many current members are homebound seniors with a third of the congregation over the age of 80. The church has had to draw on a small endowment for maintenance and upkeep for some time while at the same time making budget cutbacks from music to ministry outreach.
“We have made several significant efforts to reinvigorate the life of the congregation,” the letter continued. “We have studied our internal life through Vision Quest and Mutual Review of Ministry; we have createdprogramming in response to the expressed interests of the congregation;we have collaborated with our Yoke partner, St. John’s [in Clinton], inspecial events hosted by both congregations. In spite of these efforts,participation in anything other than Sunday worship has continued to decline, and even the average Sunday attendance has dropped.”
Senior Warden Nancy Maclaren informed members that the church belongs tothe Diocese of Michigan, including all items within it. She said BishopWendell Gibb’s office assured the Vestry that the items would be sharedwith churches in need and not simply disposed of. The financial assets and debts of the church, as well as the upkeep become the responsibilityof the Diocese, including the remainder of Rev. Robin’s salary and benefits through her 2012 contract as she continues with pastoral care. St. Peter’s released the priest to seek another call a few months ago, an avenue she is currently pursuing. According to Rev. Smith, the Diocese could possibly put the building up for lease. She said there is still hope that another kind of ministry could start up in the area in the future.
Rev. Smith also outlined some of the good that the church has done within the community in recent years, including setting up a “St. Martin’s Table” to collect food for the community food pantry, which continues throughout this holiday season.
St. Peter’s intends to celebrate Advent and Christmas in full this year,with regular worship services continuing on Sunday at 11 a.m. and culminating with a Christmas Eve service. The time has yet to be determined.
Bishop Gibbs is scheduled to perform a formal “Closing” service on behalf of the Diocese on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. More details on that service will be forthcoming.