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  • Last modified 4 days ago (Jan. 25, 2023)

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Church heads for its afterlife

Staff writer

Easter, a time for new beginnings, will mark the end of a Hillsboro Mennonite congregation.

Trinity Mennonite Church, 211 Elm St. is closing because of its aging population, a decline in attendance, and a lack of willing leadership.

The congregation formed in 1966. Its first worship service in the building was March 19, 1967.

“I was here the day the ground was broken,” Eldon Funk said Saturday as he and other members reminisced in the church’s kitchen and ate chili and cinnamon rolls.

Outside the kitchen, shoppers perused furniture, Christmas decorations, office supplies, books, and other items accumulated over the church’s 55-year history.

“We’re sad about saying goodbye,” longtime member Sue Funk said.

But Trinity members are happy about the future use of their church building.

The first floor will become Hillsboro Community Childcare Center. The basement will be available for agencies including those that work with people who have low income or are elderly.

“We’re thankful it’s going to be put to good use, and we don’t have to worry about what we’re doing with the building,” Eldon Funk said.

With average Sunday attendance hovering at 27 people, the congregation had discussed closing for two or three years, pastor Norma Duerksen said.

“We’re aging and facing dementia issues, so we decided we’d better take care of it,” she said. “We decided we wanted our building to be used for a ministry and not for storage.”

Despite finding suitable use for the building, the congregation is going through a grief process, Duerksen said.

“I think there obviously is grief in closing the only church you know and the church you built,” she said.

As the congregation has aged, it’s become harder to find people willing to step into leadership roles, especially when members want to do things such as spend more time with grandchildren.

She’s glad members have come to terms with what needs to be done.

Each member will explore his or her own future church membership.

“We’re not all going to go to the same place,” she said. “We’ve decided each one needs a church where they can thrive.”

Hillsboro Community Childcare Center plans a licensed day care for 99 children. Money raised from the sale — $7,000 as of Tuesday — is going to the center.

People interested in larger items such as pulpits, pianos, communion tables and sets, organ, pews, banners, and large crosses may call the church at (620) 947-3824 to express interest in buying them.

Duerksen has led the congregation for eight years.

While at Trinity, she also was secretary for the Hillsboro Ministerial Association, liaison to Salvation Army, chairwoman of the Bethel College Women’s Association, and an ally in the Core Community program.

She plans to retire and continue to live in Marion with her husband, Phil, a science teacher for Centre.

Nancy Kaufman attended Trinity most of her life.

“All of my kids went here,” she said. “One of our daughters got married here. Our parents’ funerals were here. We have lots of memories. I’ll miss seeing people I went to church with every Sunday.”

She and her family plan to visit several churches to see which might be a good fit for them.

“The other churches have been very welcoming,” she said.

Last modified Jan. 25, 2023

 

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