AURORA, Mo. —
Eileen Hauser passed out bulletins during a recent Sunday morning service at First Christian Church of Aurora, as she had for years.
The 91-year-old, who started attending the church in third grade, hugged, kissed and shook hands with the nearly 150 visitors, local pastors and church members who came to the service.
They all came to say goodbye to the church, which after 142 years, closed its doors for the last time earlier this month.
Hauser said that the church has “meant everything” to her. She was baptized in the church 73 years ago, and her two children grew up in the congregation. “It’s been the highlight of my life to be able to attend church here each Sunday,” she said.
Pastor Charlie Bahn cited a dwindling congregation and mounting expenses as the reason for the church closing. Bahn started preaching at First Christian Church in 2005.
“There are these thoughts about what else could we have done, or should we have done something different,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking to see a church close.”
The final church service featured four former pastors as speakers. There have been 55 pastors and interim pastors over the 142 years.
George Latimer, pastor from 1976 to 1983, said, “I’ve performed 93 funerals associated with this church. Maybe this is 94.”
The church organized in 1871 with 150 members and moved into its brick building in November 1908. The church had as many as 500 members in the 1940s, according to a church history booklet.
Lately, services have drawn about 20 members. Bahn said six or seven members were lost each year.
Bahn was pleased to see all of the visitors last Sunday morning. “It’s like a homecoming,” he said. “Today is a joyful day of celebrating, but in the coming days, there will be tears.”
One visitor, Shirley Nunn, of Springfield, said she attended the church growing up but hasn’t been back in six years. She was glad to have a time to say goodbye. “This is home,” she said.
Rose Ann Kester has attended the church with her husband, Clark, for 40 years, and both were church elders. “Well, you know it’s like the close of an era,” she said. “I really hate to see the congregation disband because of the emotional ties, but I realize from a financial point that this is something that has to occur.”
The church sold its parsonage about seven years ago, but proceeds from that sale ran dry, Bahn said. He said he knew the church would close soon, but “you always hope something will happen or someone will remember you in their will.”
Kester attributes the church closing to limited opportunities for young people in Aurora and the First Christian Church having an older congregation. Seven members of the church have died this year, she said.
She and her husband have not yet picked a new church.
Bahn said he works part time at Brentwood Christian Church in Springfield, but will look for another part-time pastoral job in the area.
As far as the church building’s future is concerned, Bahn is uncertain.
“It’s a very solid building,” he said. “The agents told me the chance of another church buying it is remote, but we’ve had other groups contact us, so it might happen.”
Former pastor Loyd Gentry preached at the church from 1969 to 1975.
He encouraged church members to remember all of the people across the world that First Christian Church has helped throughout the years and all of the memories that have been made.
“There will always be a First Christian Church Aurora,” he said. “You can lock the doors, but the church is more than the building.”