With declining membership and about a dozen regular worshipers at Sunday services, Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Whiteford will end its ministry this weekend after 40 years.
The last service at the church, located at 717 Wheeler School Road, will be this Sunday, Nov. 24, the Feast of Our King and the end of the liturgical year.
“It’s very sad, especially since we’ve gotten smaller, we’re all like family,” Carolyn Schaub, a member for about 28 years and editor of the church’s newsletter, said. “We all go to church together, but we’re all very close with each other — we know if someone gets sick, if someone gets married.”
At 2 p.m. Dec. 7, a communion service in celebration of the church’s ministry in the community for 40 years, led by Delaware-Maryland Synod Bishop William Gohl, will take place at the church.
The Delaware-Maryland Synod, a council of more than 160 Evangelical Lutheran churches in the area, will take possession of the church and plans to sell it, Schaub said.
In the mid-1990s, the church was holding two services on Sunday mornings and was considering a Saturday evening service. It had a men’s group, a women’s group, a youth group and Sunday school for all ages. The church had an Oktoberfest every year with an Oompah band and food made by the congregation.
Today, membership is around 35 people, about a third of which attend the Sunday service.
“No one is coming up behind the 13 active members,” Schaub said. “If one person leaves, we can’t pay the bills. Everybody is offering as much as they can.”
Most of the members are retired and on fixed incomes — the congregation’s median age is 70, she said.
Church membership across the country has been sharply declining over the past few decades. According to a Gallup poll published in April, about 69% of U.S. adults were members of a church in 1998-2000, compared with 52% in 2016-2018. The decrease is in line with similar trends in declining church attendance and a larger number of Americans with no religious preference, according to Gallup.
The remaining members of Jerusalem Evangelical Lutheran are “kind of on their own” in finding another church, Schaub said. One family will likely return to a local Catholic church.
Schaub and her husband are considering a church in Jarrettsville as well as another in southern Pennsylvania, but none of their options are very close to home.
“It’s the only Lutheran church in the area,” she said.
It was started because there were enough Scottish-Irish Presbyterians in the area going to Salem Lutheran in Jarrettsville. The pastor there began going to Whiteford on Sunday evenings for services, often in someone’s home.
Eventually, enough people were meeting to have the service at Cambria United Methodist Church in Whiteford when the Methodists weren’t using it.