July 31, 2013

Closing of South Portland church underscores Maine trend

The closing of First United Methodist Church on Brown's Hill is the latest sign of declining membership in many denominations in the nation's least religious state.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Sharon Ward, historian at First United Methodist Church in South Portland, says when she was a child, Sunday service used to attract as many as 150 parishioners; these days, 20 congregants is a good showing for worship.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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The First United Methodist Church in South Portland, which lost its steeple years ago because of wood rot, now stands to lose its congregation as well. Due to declining membership and increased maintenance costs, the church will close for good at the end of next month, with a final worship service set for Aug. 25.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Ward said she isn't sure what will happen to the building. Its future will be decided by the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church. Ward said the value of the building is limited.

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives, Maine lost 13 United Methodist churches from 2000 to 2010. The United Church of Christ closed 23 churches in the same period.

The Catholic Church closed 38 churches, in part because of its push to consolidate parishes. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is selling off 30 properties, most of them church buildings. St. Patrick Church in Portland held its final Mass in May and has been sold to the owner of the adjacent Westgate Shopping Center.

Since three-quarters of Mainers don't identify with a specific religion, the impact of a church closure isn't felt by everyone, but for those who are affected, it can be significant.

"When these closings happen in bigger communities, they can contribute to urban blight," said Pope, the Boston College professor. "But the bigger impact is, churches provide a social network and part of belonging for people. They connect families to neighborhoods."

The closure of a church won't change the faith of people like Sharon Ward.

"We always say 'God's spirit is everywhere,'" she said.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:


Twitter: @PPHEricRussell 

Correction: This story was revised at 11:30 a.m., July 31, 2013. An earlier version categorized the United Church of Christ as Presbyterian, which is how it was reported by the Association of Religion Data Archives. In fact, the UCC is considered Congregational. 


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Additional Photos

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Hymnals line the backs of pews at First United Methodist Church.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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A board lists the hymns for the Sunday service.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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Empty pews have become a more common sight at First United Methodist Church. An assessment of religious affiliation has found sharp declines in memberships among Catholic and several mainline Protestant denominations.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

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