The Church of the Holy Trinity, United Church of Christ, will close soon.
But its service to the community will continue for generations.
"We'll turn off the lights and hopefully still bring light to the community," said Tom Banks, a member of the consistory, the group of people elected by members to govern the church.
Like many of their peers throughout the country, people at the Church of the Holy Trinity, United Church of Christ, have struggled for years with declining membership. The roll of members once numbered about 400. It's about a tenth of that now.
In 2018, the congregation sold the property at 17805 Oak Ridge Drive to Hub City Vineyard church. Hub City Vineyard built a new building alongside the older structure, and both congregations have used parts of the property.
Late last year, the congregation of Church of the Holy Trinity voted to close.
The last service will be Sunday, April 24. After taking care of paperwork and other details, the church organization will dissolve on June 30.
In a following vote, the congregation chose to continue helping others. To do that, the church Tuesday presented $400,000 to the Community Foundation of Washington County, Md., to create The Church of the Holy Trinity United Church of Christ Endowment Fund.
The fund will support those who need safe shelter or mental health services, people who need food, those who are experiencing homelessness, and school and community liaison efforts of Lincolnshire Elementary School or any succeeding school in Halfway.
"That church is more than just a meeting place on Sundays," Stacey Crawford, the foundation's president and CEO, said Wednesday. "They wrapped their arms around that community, and they're going to continue to do that with this fund."
Community service has been part of the Church of the Holy Trinity's mission from the beginning.
The church celebrated its Organizational Day on Nov. 4, 1956. A program from that celebration carries a message from the Rev. Donald P. Flick, the founding pastor.
"Let us strive for a church that serves the community and is used by Him to mold a better world," Flick wrote.
Bill Wolford, another member of the consistory, said service is intertwined with faith.
Except for his years in the Navy, Wolford, 84, has been around since the beginning, too. He was among 68 charter members of the church. His marriage to Mary Jo Selser is listed as the church's first wedding.
"We were married for 62 years before she passed away," Wolford said.
The church would see more celebrations. Many happened under the leadership of the Rev. C. Richard Masters, who served from 1964 until his retirement in 1990.
A key moment came in the late 1960s, when Christ Church of Funkstown merged with Church of the Holy Trinity, creating the Church of the Holy Trinity, United Church of Christ. The merged congregation deeded the former Funkstown church building to the municipality.
In addition to worship, the church offered a pre-school and Bible classes. The current consistory members — Banks, Wolford and Charley and Barb Ware — said the congregation also supported various causes. Among other things, they provided supplies and clothes students. They supported food drives and efforts to help people experiencing homelessness or domestic violence. They hosted Scouting organizations and helped the larger United Church of Christ organization.
"This church has always been a very outward-oriented church," said Ware, the current consistory president.
'Churches don't last forever'
But for the past couple of decades, the membership has been aging and dwindling.
"What's happening to us is what's happening in our country," Wolford said.
According to the Gallup organization, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque in 2020. That was down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
Church of the Holy Trinity launched some studies and initiatives to build membership.
"Basically, it happened too late," said the Rev. Ellen Witko, the current pastor.
"There was no energy left," Barnes said. "There was no energy to implement the ideas that came up."
Witko knew of the church's situation before she started serving it.
"My call there was to help them discern when and how to close. … I think most of the congregation is well over 80 years old," she said.
A few months after she started, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Like other houses of worship, the church launched online services.
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Despite the pandemic, the congregation also worked through what Witko called the sometimes emotional process of deciding to close and to devote the church's assets to community service.
"Everything has a life span, including churches," Witko said. "So this is our life span. Churches don't last forever."
But the name of this one might.
'Their legacy will live'
Crawford, leader of the community foundation, praised church members for their care in setting up the endowment fund. The language was reworked a few times to make sure it was specific enough to serve the congregation's wishes, but broad enough to adapt to future changes.
"Their legacy will live in that community," she said. "That name, 'Church of the Holy Trinity,' will be in the community long after any of us are gone, into perpetuity. ... I think it's wonderful."
Ware, the consistory president, said the church also set aside funds for the future of the denomination. The church will donate to the Catoctin Association of the United Church of Christ to support people who are preparing for the ministry.
Witko and the four consistory members said the decision to allocate resources arose from the church's mission.
Each of the members will probably find a new place to worship, they said. So it came down to realizing that the church could still help others in the future.
Ware noted that both of the congregation's votes — to dissolve and to create the community foundation fund — were unanimous.
"This decision to dissolve Church of the Holy Trinity was something we did because we can, not because we have to," she said.
Mike Lewis covers business, the economy and other issues. Follow Mike on Twitter at MiLewis.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Church of the Holy Trinity closes, creates community foundation fund