WELCH — It could be likened to losing a family member for Winston McKeon.
The Welch United Methodist Church will close its doors after 121 years on Sunday, April 30.
“Members of my family were charter members of the church, so someone I am related to was always worshiping there,” said McKeon.
McKeon, chairman of the Welch United Methodist Church council, said currently there between 30 and 40 people on the rolls, but the average Sunday attendance is now between seven and 10.
“I have mixed emotions,” McKeon said. “I don’t want to die today, but my plan is to be buried on the hill outside of town and I had hoped that the pastor from our Welch United Methodist would officiate. But that’s not going to happen.”
Members will now call First United Methodist of Miami their church home.
A special service is planned Sunday, April 7, leading up to the official closing of the church on April 30.
“I am calling it a retirement service, a retirement of the building, releasing our fears, our anxiety, our pain, our grief, our anger — looking towards what God has next for us,” said Welch United Methodist minister Robert Van House.
Sunday’s service will begin at 9:30 a.m., then there will be a fellowship lunch afterwards, Van House said.
According to Wikipedia, Welch was established in 1888 in the Cherokee Nation on land that D. B. Nigh leased from Frank Craig. The Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway (Katy) had built a line through the area in 1871, and in 1891 it built a switch on Nigh's property, providing a shipping point for local hay and grain.
The town that began to grow around the switch was named for a Katy railroad official, A. L. Welch. A post office was established in 1892.
The town plat was approved in 1902, and the town incorporated in 1909.
The church traces its history back to 1898, when circuit rider A.R. Bogle visited a family south of what is now Welch hoping to find a convenient place to hold church services from time to time as he traveled through the area.
The current brick building was built in 1955.
“Not being able to maintain the church the way it needed, the decision was made to close down the building,” Van House said.
“For 121 years this church has been a place where people worshiped, learned, and experienced life together as they loved God and people,” Green Country District Superintendent Rev. Emery Mason said in an email. “Through their outpouring of love in tangible ways throughout the years, this church has made a difference in many lives and has truly mattered to the people of the Welch community and beyond.
“Unfortunately, in the same way that many of our rural communities are finding that their schools and businesses are struggling to do what they once did, this is also true of many churches. Individual churches generally have a limited life span. The life of the Welch UMC is to be celebrated but is no longer sustainable in its present form. The United Methodist Church still intends to make differences in lives of people in the area.”
The church is exploring several options with its property.
Mason said they are offering to donate two lots the church owns to the Cherokee Nation for the purpose of providing low cost quality housing for the community.
They are also offering property to the Welch Area Development Authority for the purpose of benefiting the community.
Mason said other funds and resources left from the closing would be used by the United Methodist Church to start new ministries and to revitalize old ones.
“Even as we close, the members of our church are interest in having the greatest impact on our community,” McKeon said. “If the property and the content of the building can be used locally, we are going to see that it occurs.”
“We are thankful for the many ways that the Welch UMC has made the world a better place for the last 121 years and for how the choices they have made will continue to do so,” Mason said. “The members of the congregation will continue to serve God faithfully in new settings and will continue in their love of God and service to their neighbors.”