"Literally, the members of St. George have carried the Gospel everywhere and will continue to do so," he continued. "The membership of this church will disperse itself and find itself in places they really didn't intend to be, but they will carry on, they will preach the Gospel and that will bring joy and happiness."

Slater also stayed hopeful, telling the congregation that "the presence of God is not housed in any property" and that "it is the intention of the diocese that the congregation that worships here will not be deprived of word or sacrament."

After the service, Slater noted the diocese could consider renting the building to another congregation or starting another ministry there.

"The potential is certainly here," he said, adding the "challenge" is the location. Perryman Road is not the major thoroughfare it once was.

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But keeping St. George's going as an Episcopal parish was simply impractical, he said. The church has not had a full-time priest in about 20 years and when Slater arrived at the parish a year ago to do an audit, he found financial records in disarray and other records lost.

When base realignment at nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground brought the prospect of people moving to the greater Aberdeen area, the parish did not have the funds to advertise and possibly gain new members, he added.

"It's tough, obviously. This is not the first church to cease services or to close, and sometimes the changes are based on geographic or cultural shifts," Slater said, citing three other parishes in the diocese that are "imperiled."

"People are looking for programs, looking for intergenerational programs. People are not loyal to a denomination as much as they used to be," Slater said.

But the closing of a historic parish is still difficult to take for people like Carey, who came to Joppatowne from Nottingham, England, 40 years ago and has been an altar server and all-around helper at St. George's ever since.

"The moment I stepped off the boat, I went right here," Carey said as she closed the doors to the church, the last parishioner to leave.

"I have seen lots of ministers come and go, and it's the last 10 years that we have started to go down because we really needed to have the money," she said. "I really think that if we could have afforded a priest even part-time, we would have made it."

Carey said she knows it's just a building and God is everywhere, but it was sad to close a place that had become such a part of her life and of many others over the centuries.

"I do know truly God was in this place," she said.