Karen Kinkade can remember when they had to crank up a wall at the back of Trinity United Methodist Church’s 400-seat sanctuary to make room for the congregation.
The 69-year-old Richland woman was baptized as an infant at the altar of what was then Trinity Evangelical United Brethren Church at 111 Willow St. in the Kernville section of Johnstown.
She has seen church membership decline over the years. Only a handful have attended services in recent months.
Next month, Kinkade will have to find a new church home.
The 148-year-old church will hold its final service at 10:45 a.m. on June 30.
The loss goes deeper, Kinkade said while sitting in a pew in the church’s current home, a highly recognizable stone structure built in 1923.
“Church isn’t just a place you go to on Sunday,” Kinkade said. “It’s a place you can go to for a lot of things during the week.
“It’s a place where you have people to support you. It’s a place you go when you are feeling good, and it’s also a place you go when you are feeling bad.”
‘Long history of ministry’
The Rev. Sung Chung, Johnstown District superintendent, will participate in the June 30 Service of Discontinuance, also called a decommissioning.
The loss goes beyond the former congregation, Chung said. It reaches throughout the community and the greater Christian family.
“It’s very sad,” he said. “The Trinity church was originally an Evangelical Assembly church. It has a long history of ministry in Johnstown.”
Trinity has been part of the downtown partnership with Franklin Street and First United Methodist churches, he added.
“They shared that ministry, so it’s a very sad time,” Chung said. “It’s a beautiful church, but it’s too big for the few in the congregation to maintain.”
The service will feature Mark Ed playing the Trinity pipe organ, which has not been featured in church services for several years. It will also will provide one final opportunity to see Trinity’s stained glass windows by well-known C. Day Rudy Co., of Harrisburg, and artwork by the late William Pasternak, of Johnstown.
Kinkade said church leaders had the windows inspected and were told they were too brittle to remove for relocation.
Kinkade admits the church has not operated in the black for some time.
“In the last few years, we’ve been living on savings accounts that we had simply through the generosity of members who have left us estates when they passed away,” she said.
The late Raymond and Eleanor Kiser funded some major upgrades, including a new elevator, while they were active in the church. The Kisers left their entire estate to Trinity.
“When we started (tapping the savings), we would just grab a little bit of money to make ends meet,” Kinkade said. “As the years kept passing, more and more was coming from savings and less and less was coming in as the income of the church.”
When serious reckoning showed the well would run dry later this year, the remaining members voted to close the church.
“In the United Methodist Church, that decision to close can’t be made by anybody except the membership,” she said.
‘Rich legacies of faith’
Several former Trinity pastors are expected to participate in the June 30 decommissioning, and the closing will be memorialized again next year at the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
The former Wilmore United Methodist Church was among 10 churches recognized at the 2019 Annual Conference earlier this month at Grove City College.
“Today, we honor congregations who have served their communities faithfully as followers of Jesus, and who have reached the point of death, so that the fruit of the gospel may continue to grow,” the Rev. Jim Pond, Indiana District superintendent, said during the service in Grove City.
“Closure can be a faithful choice for communities of faith. We praise God and celebrate the ministries of local churches that have been discontinued in the last year, leaving behind rich legacies of faith.”
Ownership of the Trinity building, property and artifacts will be transferred to the General Conference, Chung said.
A demographics study is normally completed to see if other United Methodist churches could use the building, but Chung said the proximity of First and Franklin Street churches makes any future needs unlikely.
“At this point, the plan is to put that church on the market for sale,” Chung said.
Western Pennsylvania Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi described the situation for Wilmore and the other nine churches at the Grove City event.
“We now release their buildings, property and assets to bless others,” Moore-Koikoi said. “We commend their members to other congregations, knowing we all remain part of the Body of Christ together.”
1871: Pittsburgh Conference of the Evangelical Association opens mission in Johnstown, meeting in a Cambria Iron Co. hall.
1872: Trinity Evangelical Church opens with 20 members on Franklin Street in what is now the Conemaugh Medical Park lot.
1923: Present church built as the First Evangelical Church, following merger with nearby Willow Street Church.
1946: Renamed Trinity Evangelical United Brethren Church, following the national merger of the Evangelical Church and the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.
1969: Renamed Trinity United Methodist Church, following the merger of the Evangelical United Brethren Church with the Methodist Church.
June 30, 2019: Trinity United Methodist Church officially decommissioned.