How does a church die with dignity? A 21st-century question many congregations across denominations are asking.
Folks who study religion in America say it’s easier to start a new church than to breathe new life into an older congregation that has lost its cool.
For more than 100 years Lakewood Baptist Church at 2100 Chapel Hill Road, near Lakewood Shopping Center and just across the street from the YMCA, has served this residential area in the Bull City. Its heyday was probably in the 1960s, when its membership reached about 500.
Members at that time were families living along shaded avenues and streets in the quiet neighborhood where children could play outdoors without fear of unexpected violence and where families could walk to prayer meeting on Wednesday night or 11 a.m. worship on Sunday morning.
But this scene is now a part of Durham’s history.
Like other Durham inner-city neighborhoods in the ’60s and ’70s, Lakewood experienced the flight to the suburbs that swept across the country. After that, newcomers to the city began to move in and the area is now characterized by a diverse population, including Latino, Burmese, white and black folks, to name a few. A true city scene, giving rise to a need for churches that are culturally as well as spiritually attractive.
The congregation began to experience a noticeable decline in attendance in the 1980s and ’90s. In April of last year, the last dozen members decided to disband.
A hard decision, no doubt, but those like Teresa Dotson, among the last 12, did not see it as the death of a church, but as a decision making possible a continuing ministry.
Years ago, the church made known in its organizing documents its wishes that in the event the church ever ceased operations, the property would be turned over to some nonprofit agency or group. In keeping with that understanding, the final 12 signed over the property to the Yates Baptist Association.
Although other churches in the association have closed over the years, no other has made this kind of gift to the Yates Association, said the Rev. Mike Bond, who directs partnership ministries.
Dotson, administrative coordinator for the association, said plans are under way to renovate the church building, creating appropriate space for the association’s offices now located at 4800 Garrett Road.
Also, instead of a big building with deserted spaces, three ministries are already ongoing at the church.
A Hispanic church has been using space in the building for several years.
A new Burmese Church has begun to meet and hold services there.
And the most recent group to hold its services there is the Oak Church, a plant from the Chapel Hill Bible Church on Erwin Road.
In addition to offices for the association staff, an idea is now developing to open an Impact Center in the building, likely including a clothes closet and a food pantry.
The building, dating to 1924, is a noteworthy structure. Its temple-style Greek Revival architecture is both beautiful and imposing. And for years its faithful members kept a large rose garden that bloomed all summer in the side yard.
Dotson said the church building is on a site of 4.5 acres and is valued at about $1 million. Plans call for the sanctuary to be preserved as is with its beautiful stained glass windows, electronic organ and grand piano.
The Yates Association moved to the Garrett Road office building in December of 1986. This property is already on the market with an asking price of $795,000.
The documentary film “States of Grace” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Bryan Center Griffith Theater at Duke University.
The event is co-sponsored by the Buddhist Community at Duke and the Rev. Tova Green, a priest from San Francisco Zen Center, which collaborated in and supported making the documentary.
The film documents the profound transformation of a revered physician and her family in the wake of a life-changing accident.
For Dr. Grace Dammann, a pioneering AIDS specialist honored for her work by the Dalai Lama, a routine commute across the Golden Gate Bridge turned tragic when another driver crashed head-on into her car.
After seven weeks in a coma and a dozen surgeries, Grace miraculously awakened with her cognitive abilities intact, though her body was left shattered and severely disabled.
“States of Grace” follows her return home to Green Gulch Farm, the Buddhist community where she lives with her partner Nancy “Fu” Schroeder and their daughter, Sabrina.
The film offers a view of both caregiver and care receiver as they face triumphs and setbacks over a five-year period.
Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 students.
Area United Methodist Churches will join together for a Pentecost service Sunday morning at the Farmer’s Market Pavilion at Durham’s Central Park in downtown.
Participating churches include Duke Memorial, Asbury, Trinity, Calvary and New Creation United Methodist churches.
Worship at 10 a.m. is a vibrant and full Pentecost service featuring guest musicians, a combined choir and Holy Communion. The Rev. Tim Russell, assistant to Bishop Hope Ward of the North Carolina conference, will preach.
Worship will continue at 11 a.m. through service projects in the Central Park neighborhood. Activities for children and families will be available.
At noon, a fellowship picnic lunch will be served or individuals may enjoy lunch from local food trucks parked on the site. The park features a playground and plenty of green space for fellowship.
Participants should bring lawn chairs or a blanket to sit on, sunglasses and sunscreen and a picnic lunch if so desired.
Worshipers may wish to wear red to celebrate Pentecost, but casual clothing is recommended.
For those who can’t get to Central Park, an 8:45 a.m. service with Holy Communion will be held at Trinity, 215 N. Church St.; and an 11 a.m. worship service at Duke Memorial, 504 W. Chapel Hill St.
Omission from last week’s column: Episcopal churches in Durham include St. Joseph and La Iglesias El Buen Pastor, both on Main Street.
Contact Flo Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 910-361-4135.