120+ year old Birmingham church closes as part of cycle for denomination

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — In the last year, 21 United Methodist churches have closed in Alabama. That number includes Sandusky United Methodist Church in Birmingham, which closed Sunday, after 126 years in the community.

The large number is worrying to some members of the church, but the bishop for the North Alabama Conference, Debra Wallace-Padgett, says it’s not alarming to her. Ten of the churches that closed this year are in her conference.

“It really is not unusual for us to close at 10 churches in the course of a year,” Wallace-Padgett said. “We have about 700 United Methodist Churches in our Alabama conference, so that represents a small percentage of our churches.”

When the churches do close, Wallace-Padgett says it’s based on a joint decision between the conference leaders and the local leaders.

“Sometimes communities change, and when a community changes and the church is not successful in reaching the new community that develops, it affects vitality,” Wallace-Padgett said. “Other times, communities change and the church reinvents itself.”

As the conference is closing some traditional types of churches, they’re opening new ones, the bishop says, including home-based churches, addiction outreach, and smaller groups. Wallace-Padgett told CBS42 News that they try to see the closing of a church not as a time to mourn, but celebrate.

“We celebrate the churches that have really made such a difference in the lives of so many people but have now come to a point in their life cycle where they close,” Wallace-Padgett said. “We honor them and we recognize what they have done, and we are so grateful for that because in some ways we stand on their shoulders.”

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