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Congregation says goodbye to Summit church

Staff writer

Summit United Methodist Church of rural Burns closed its final service Sunday with the same song that has closed every service for years, “God Be With You, Till We Meet Again.”

Pastor David Ragland said after the service he thought it was appropriate for the occasion, asking God to be with everyone until they meet again, even if it takes until eternity.

“The only thing certain in life is change,” Ragland said in his sermon.

He urged parishioners to take their talents to other churches.

“Continue to live your lives as disciples of Christ,” he said.

Part of the service was devoted to reminiscing about the good times people had with the church. Stories about “Aunt” Hester Gillet, Maudie Gaines, and Ida Clark elicited a lot of laughs and a few tears.

Former pastors David Randal and Roy Nelson sent letters. Randal wrote what he remembered most about the congregation was its upbeat attitude. In his letter, he reminded the congregation that their faith wasn’t being decommissioned with the building.

Nelson wrote that other churches would be strengthened by the infusion of parishioners from Summit.

An important part of the church’s legacy is its history as a place where pastors began careers. At least eight student pastors began at Summit. Two of them, Gary Brooks and Chuck Hadley, attended the closing service.

Hadley arrived in 1953 and preached for two years at Summit. Brooks’ first service was Feb. 29, 1976. He remained at Summit until 1978.

Brooks said the women at the church were able to predict that he would marry his then-girlfriend even before he decided to propose.

One of the building’s quirks is that it has been home to many honeybees for years. He said he was happy to see the bees still there Sunday.

Brooks was emotional about seeing the church close.

“It’s painful,” he said. “I always say dynamite comes in small packages, and this church was dynamite for me.”

Attendance for the final service was in the mid-50s. The last time that many people attended a service was probably for the church’s 105th anniversary in 1984, lifelong member Cindy Holt said.

At the end of the service, the church was deconsecrated and the congregation disbanded. As smoke drifted up from the extinguished candles, several churchgoers dabbed tears from their cheeks.

After the service, parishioners had a fellowship lunch and shared stories before leaving the building to the honeybees.

Last modified Oct. 14, 2010

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