A church nearly as old as the town of Le Center itself closed its doors last week. The United Methodist Church building was shut down Aug. 1 and sold to Iglesia Petacostes Nueva Jerusalem.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said Lynette Hoffman. “I’m glad we have another congregation coming in, but it’s sad to see the closure of the Church.”
Hoffman was a part of United Methodist’s ever-dwindling congregation. With members of the church getting older and a lack of new parishioners, the church’s board of trustees decided to sell off the building.
“It’s really too bad,” said Rich Bornholdt. “The congregation just got smaller and smaller. There were only between 12-14 of us, so when the pastor retired in June, we decided it was time to close.”
The church and its contents were sold to Iglesia Pentacostes Nueva Jerusalem at a low fee.
“They were looking for a place to go,” said Bornholdt. “We just charged them a few dollars to take care of it. We didn’t want it to turn into a rental property or something like that, so we were grateful another church was willing to take it.”
The closing of United Methodist marked the end of a church that has existed in one form or another for over a century. Its long history has been chronicled by 100-year-old Crystal Krenik, who has compiled numerous newspaper articles and church pamphlets from throughout United Methodist’s history in scrapbooks.
“I’m interested in history,” said Krenik. “And I’ve always been interested in the church’s history.”
Le Center’s first Methodist church was built soon after the town’s establishment in 1876 when it was known as Le Sueur Center. Reverend Isaiah Napier came to Le Center in 1879, and, seeing that there was no Methodist church in the area, began organizing congregations. The Methodist Episcopal Church was built starting in 1882 and completed in 1886.
The congregation’s numbers would continue to expand throughout the years. In 1911, the smaller Lexington Methodist Episcopal Church’s congregation was incorporated into the Le Center church.
However, tragedy struck the church on Jan. 22, 1939. Fire from an overheated furnace burned down the whole building in a matter of hours.
“I was a teenager when it happened,” said Krenik. “I watched the church burn in the early morning. The fire destroyed everything, except the bell which still stands on church grounds.”
Despite these troubles, the church was rebuilt on the corner of Cordova and Tyrone on September 24, 1939. Though the church was destroyed, the congregation continued to meet elsewhere every Sunday.
The United Methodist Church, as it’s known today, was formed out of a union between the Methodist Church of Le Center and Tabor Evangelical United Brethren in 1968. This new union expanded the church and also brought about some changes.
“When I joined, it was a fairly conservative church. Faithful, but with a medium-sized congregation,” said Krenik. “It became less conservative. It was working with a larger congregation, but things fell into place very well. There was a feeling of contentment because the congregations had known each other. It gave more security to Methodist Church, having another congregation.”
Since its establishment, United Methodist Church was an active part of the Le Center community. It may be most well-known for its chicken biscuit supper fundraiser, where the men of the congregation would serve meals to the community.
“We always had a lot of fun doing it,” said Bornholdt.
United Methodist also put on baked potato suppers, Monday night meals, neighborhood block parties, as well as Ecumenical Thanksgivings and Christmas parties, where United Methodist would join with other churches in the area to celebrate the holidays. The parish’s community work also includes hosting Le Center’s Night to Unite, where police met with the public to celebrate and share safety tips, charity work with the food shelf, and the planting of a community garden.
“We’ve done some good things over the years,” said Hoffman. “It saddens me that young people just aren’t interested, but hopefully we had some impact on the community.”
Crystal Krenik had parting words for those who still have churches to attend.
“People should continue in their faiths,” said Krenik. “They should support their own church both in attendance and financially. Times are hard in all the churches right now. There’s been a period of listlessness, but having a faith and church of your own is so important as years go by.”