ALBION, Mich. — Rev. Charlotte Ellison didn’t cry as she delivered her last sermon on Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church. She almost did. However she didn’t because the day wasn’t about her, she said.
“It was a real celebration,” Ellison said during an interview in the sanctuary. “We went out with a roar not a whimper as somebody said.”
Ellison said it was a “lovefest” that day, which was was the sendoff she wanted for the church considering it was a final farewell for everyone there. She said the church, as a congregation, was dissolving after more than 180 years of service.
“It’s tough to come to the end of a ministry like that,” Ellison said. “But the reality is that our congregation continued to age.”
She said people aren’t going to church like they used to and it’s had a big impact at First Presbyterian. Over the decades, younger members moved away and went to other churches. For those who stayed, they only grew older.
“I came almost seven years ago and the congregation wanted to continue to worship as along as we could,” Ellison said. “That included a lot of 80- and 90-year-olds who have subsequently gone on to glory.”
She said the church today looks a lot like it did when it started back in 1837. At that time there were only 24 members and they met in a log cabin.
“I calculated that there have been at least 10,000 worship events since this church started,” Ellison said. “In other words, every Sunday, plus holidays and everything else for 183 years.”
The group didn’t meet in the church until it was built 20 years later, she said. Slowly it began to grow despite a fire in 1873. They immediately began rebuilding it and reached 430 members in 1895.
Ellison said that it also served as a stop on the Underground Railroad in the 1800s and was a meeting place for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s when the church reached 600 members.
“Mostly it’s just been home to a lot of folks who have been faithful,” she said.
It’s the people she’ll miss the most, Ellison said. Even though only 12 people regularly met at the church over the last few years, she’s gotten to know them intimately.
“They’re you’re family,” Ellison said. “You fall in love with them. You take care of them. You look after them. And you get attached in a way that is just has nothing to do with just a job.”
They worked together and bonded when they tried to revive the church, she said. They hosted a number of events from pancake dinners to a lecture series about current events.
However, nothing worked.
“In many ways we’ve been doing chest compressions on the congregation for several years,” she said. “It was just time.”
Now that the congregation has officially disbanded the building goes to the denomination, she said. Then they decide how it should be used next.
She joked that it could turn into a brewery or a dinner theatre. Ultimately, she hopes that it isn’t torn down. There’s too much history at stake.
“It wasn’t an ending like a failure. It was a completion that God’s had something for these people to do here for 183 years and we’ve done it,” Rev. Ellison said about the last service. “We’ve done it faithfully and now we move on and hopefully this church will come to be a home to another congregation. That’s our prayer.”