Original Published 08:59 May 04, 2022

By Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Central United Church will be hosting a bittersweet celebration Sunday as the congregation marks its final service ever in the  community.

On Jan. 22, members voted 96.5 per cent in favour of disbanding  the congregation on June 30, with the last service slated for April 24,  according to a congregation newsletter obtained by the Sun.

The letter stated the building was sold as of Feb. 27 with a closing sale date of June 30.

“It’s sad,” said Bill Myers, chairman of the leadership team at  Central United Church. “There’s a lot of history. A lot of people have  been baptized, married, buried — it’s been sort of a stalwart part of  the religious community of Brandon for a long, long time.”

Myers — like plenty of the congregants — and his family have  been members of the church for many years. His parents were even married  in the previous church, St. Paul’s, in 1941.

The final service was held at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The service will include previous ministers, Knox United Church and Trinity United Church  members gathering to help celebrate the history. Member representatives  from the regional United Church from Winnipeg will be coming out for  the formal officiating of the end of the congregation.

“It will be a celebration and I guess a bit of a funeral,”  Myers said. “It’s very bittersweet. It’s a celebration of our history,  but it’s a sad situation.”

The more than 18,200-square-foot church, located at 327 Eighth  St., was listed for $1.5 million on a local real estate website. The  sanctuary of the church can hold up to 800 people.

The sale of the church had been in the works for several years  and was largely necessitated by declining congregation numbers.

“It got to the point where it just wasn’t financially  sustainable. It costs a lot to maintain the building and the staff,”  Myers said. “Ultimately, it became apparent that there wasn’t enough  membership congregation to run the place.”

After the final service, all congregation members will be given their member certificates and will be able to transfer to other churches,  including Knox United Church or Trinity United Church.

Items in the church are being dispersed into the community, and  longtime reverends Milo Spooner Craig and Doug Craig will retire when  the closure is complete.

The funds generated by the sale of the building will be used to  first satisfy liability and bills, and whatever is leftover will be  split between the Regional United Church of Canada and the local  congregation.

Based on a unique formula, the regional church will receive 30  per cent of the funds, leaving 70 per cent for the congregation to  disperse among charitable organizations.

“I expect the majority of [funds] will stay in Brandon,” Myers said. “It’s all primarily social outreach functions.”

Cities Church has been renting space in the Central United  Church for three years and will also be forced to find a new home. The  Sun requested comment from the church, but assistant pastor Faith  Beswitherick said in an email they would be unable to meet the press  deadline.

Central United Church sits on the site of the former St. Paul’s  United Church, which dates back more than 100 years. The previous  church burned to the ground in 1986. Central United was built in its  place and first opened its doors to congregation members in September  1988.

The closure of Central United Church is not a unique story,  Myers said. Churches across the country have been shutting down, too.

According to Statistics Canada, religious affiliation, the  frequency of group and individual religious activities and the  importance of religious or spiritual beliefs in everyday life have been  declining for decades. United Christians make up 3.8 per cent of  Canada’s Christian population of 63.2 per cent.

“It’s just the way of the world at the moment,” Myers said.

This item reprinted from Branson Sun, Brandon, Manitoba