Century-Old McAlester Church Holds Final Service
McALESTER, Oklahoma - A McAlester church that’s served its community for more than a century held its final service Sunday.
An attendance record for every Sunday for the past 30 years at First Christian Church in McAlester shows membership once thrived, but over the past several years it's dwindled so much it can't afford to stay open any longer.
As sunlight broke through the stained glass windows, a lifetime of memories came back to Lynelle and Lloyd Emmons.
“Our heart is here,” Lynelle said. “We've had lots of happy times here - lots of fun with children and laughing.
McAlester's First Christian Church was founded in 1890. Their current building went up 35 years later before the Emmons were even born.
The couple was just 28 and 30 when they joined the church back in 1957.
“This church was alive then, we had around 400 members,” Lynelle said.
Lloyd said, “We'd have the balconies filled.”
But the balconies haven't been filled in years.
The 90-year-old church leaks and mold has set in. And like the building, the congregation has aged as well.
Lynelle said, “And now we're the old ones. But, you know? That's OK. We're still alive.”
“Our members just died off,” said Lloyd. “They got too old to come to church and they quit coming, and that made a gap.”
For years, only 15 to 25 people would show up for Sunday services. Almost all of the members were elderly as the church was unable to draw a younger crowd like some of the bigger churches in town.
“I praise those churches that they can bring people in, but we're older and we can't do that,” Lynelle said.
Despite the low attendance, the was able to provide a food pantry to the community. It served 100 or more people each week.
"It's been a very successful thing. It's not only fed people, but it's been a fellowship time for these people that come in that are maybe lonely," said Lynelle.
But the soup kitchen's success, didn't change the fate of the church. The Emmons said they've known for a while the day would come when they had to say goodbye.
“We had no Sunday school classes and, ya know, God was telling us it's time to move on and we listened,” Lynelle said.
Sunday was the final sermon and more than 100 people filled the pews for the final message.
“We shed a few tears about moving, leaving,” said Lynelle. “But God's everywhere, so we'll worship somewhere else. We'll be there next Sunday in a church.”
The Emmons' prayer is that another denomination will buy the property and bring back to life the building that served them for so long and so well.
“I hope it comes to life,” the Emmons said. “I hope it does. I really do.”
The church’s soup kitchen will hold two more lunches this Tuesday and next, and then, after that, it will close as well.