144 Year Old Church Closes
Alto United Methodist Church
P-AUMC Closing 11-7 by Tim McAllister lead reporter
After 144 years, because of low attendance and large outstanding bills, Alto United Methodist Church will close at the end of December. “Disbanding a church family is a significant emotional event,” said AUMC congregant Lois Heffron. “The solution was difficult. Why we are closing is financial instability. Why we are financially unstable can be attributed to decline in attendance and aging and [declining] energy of the current members. Worship trends have changed over the years. [...] Growth of the congregation attending a small rural church, once revered, was not happening. The energy of the aging faithful members hit an all-time low to meet the population trends. [...] Through these past few months [it] became difficult to ignore the funding [required] for maintaining our new building. [...] A charge conference was held and a vote was taken to close as of Dec. 31, 2018.”
Originally known as the German Methodist Church of South Lowell, the church first organized at Merriman corners, one mile north of the village of Alto, in 1874. The church moved into Alto in 1907, where they remained for over a century. The AUMC supported Flat River Outreach Ministries and Gilda's Club and held annual Easter egg hunts, ice cream socials and Halloween parties.
In 2003, the AUMC purchased five acres of land at 11365 64th St. SE and in 2012 opened a new church building there. The financial strain from this project, plus routine maintenance and monthly bills proved to be the church's undoing.
“Our average attendance is 23 to 30 people,” Heffron said. “We built a new sanctuary to seat 200. We had a church in downtown Alto that had been there since 1907. That church was built when the population in this area was mostly farmers. When the new church was dedicated in 2012, that was no longer the case. When we built the new church, we had saved $500,000. The new church cost $1.2 million. After six years, we still have debts over $300,000. The parking lot needs to be repaved or at least resealed. The carpet has a couple spots. If we want to get them cleaned, where will that money come from? The mortgage payments were a concern. That was separate from the lights, telephone and so on.”
Heffron said the church building is for sale for “around $500,000.” It has not yet been decided what will happen if there's money left over after they pay off all their bills. When Snow United Methodist Church closed, leftover money was donated to congregants [“a pittance,” according to Heffron] and other area churches.
“We belong to the Methodist Conference,” Heffron said. “If it was a big amount, I would think they would want control of anything that was left.”
When the AUMC closes, some members might join another United Methodist church a few miles away. They have plenty of choices, out of the 27 churches in the Lowell area, five are United Methodist.
“We have a sister church, Bowne Center United Methodist Church, and they have been very cordial,” Heffron said. “They have invited this congregation to their church. That is four miles away, maybe.”
Although the church's official last day is Dec. 31, their final worship service will be at 9:30 am on Sunday, Nov. 4. They will have “a time of reflection with refreshments” after the service.
For more information, visit altoumc.org or find them on Facebook.
Alto United Methodist Church will close in December after 144 years.