- As director of connectional ministries for the Oklahoma Conference, the Rev. Derrek Belase is responsible for managing closed churches.
- He’ll soon be speaking at the final service for First United Methodist Church, Carnegie, which he attended growing up.
- Belase will be responsible for selling the property.
- He’s remembering how much the church has meant to him and others, and while sad, he’s grateful that its members will find a new church home and its ministries will continue.
The church I grew up in is closing and I am responsible for selling it. To be honest, I never thought I would write those words.
I am a fourth-generation United Methodist from rural, southwest Oklahoma. My parents owned and operated a carpet store until my father’s death in 1997. Two generations before him farmed cotton and peanuts.
First United Methodist Church, Carnegie, nurtured me since birth, walked alongside us during the darkest days of my family’s life, affirmed my call to ministry and sent me forth on the last Sunday of June 2003 to serve three small churches.
Now I’m the director of connectional ministries for the Oklahoma Annual Conference, and my responsibilities include managing the conference’s closed churches. This fateful task falls to me, and the list will soon include First Church in Carnegie.
As with many churches across our connection, Carnegie’s few remaining members just can’t keep up with the costs of appointed clergy, even part-time, along with building maintenance, utilities and other expenses.
Methodism arrived in Carnegie three years before Oklahoma became a state, in the form of a Sunday school gathering taught in an old schoolhouse on the site of the Carnegie Cemetery.
A Methodist Episcopal Church South church was dedicated on Independence Day 1904 in a one-room building on South Broadway. A Methodist Episcopal Church (North) officially organized on Oct. 15, 1904. The two churches became one on Oct. 15, 1919. They moved into their current building in 1939.
It is this building, at the corner of Broadway and Ash, that will see its final worship service on the afternoon of Nov. 20.
I can remember our 1984 bicentennial celebration like it was yesterday. I got toothpaste on my shirt, but my mom did not notice until it was too late for me to change clothes. I deftly placed my nametag to cover the stain.
I certainly did not realize the importance of that day at age 7, but I do now. I remember my friend Lois Scott’s mother, Eunice, ringing the bell their family gave our church to commemorate that day. Just three years ago, I stood in the pulpit of that church and eulogized Lois. I do wonder where that bell will find its new home.
The church family has experienced setbacks and hardships through the years. The ME North church building burned on March 18, 1910, just as construction was wrapping up. Before the ashes had cooled, the church voted to rebuild.
New zoning laws had been passed, and so the rebuilt building had to be brick. The cornerstone of that building now resides in the current building.
The Great Depression threw the church another curveball. Rising to the occasion as they always do, the women of the church raised money by serving plate lunches to the local Rotary Club. They started this project on Dec. 7, 1938, and continued the tradition for the next 82 years without interruption.
Another very unique fundraiser was the annual “Calendar Supper.” Started in 1935 to finance the youth activities, 12 tables were festooned with decorations depicting each of the 12 months. Participants sat at the table of their birth month, and a rousing auction would take place after the fellowship supper.
I have so many other memories. When my father was dying of cancer, the entire church gathered around one Sunday morning, laid hands on him and prayed for his healing. I can still see the people filling the front and the aisles.
They not only offered their prayers. They brought food to our house, offered to do what we could not do ourselves and hosted fundraisers for us. Paul’s words to the Galatians became a reality: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Today, the stained-glass window in the front of the sanctuary is one of the only memorials to his life.
Each week, my mother made sure my sister and I were there in time for Sunday school. We children would sing songs in the old assembly fashion before breaking up into our classes. We would climb the stairs to the second floor after the buzzer sounded throughout the building.
I would sit next to mom as I learned the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, what would become my favorite hymns and so much more. If I looked back, I could see my great-grandfather, Bud, and his brother, Doc, sitting a few rows back. I did not realize then that four generations of family in church on a Sunday morning is a rare gift.
I can remember all of my Sunday school teachers. I remember vacation Bible school during summers and UMYF meetings on Sunday evenings. I have no idea how much pizza, Oreos and Kool Aid I have consumed in that basement.
And Christmas! What a magical time. The handmade Chrismons adorning the ceiling-height tree. The beautiful greenery strung around the sanctuary and the candles in the sills of the stained-glass windows. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I am back there.
But the main thing I realized through my years in that church is just how much Jesus loves me. His followers taught and showed me his love.
Methodism will not be absent in my hometown. There are two United Methodist churches there that are part of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. And seven miles west and seven miles north are two other United Methodist churches.
The people of First United Methodist Church in Carnegie will go to church in Mountain View. The church building is conveniently built on one level and will be easier to navigate for the church members.
In addition, First Church Carnegie’s wonderful food pantry ministry will be relocated to another historic building where the mission outreach will continue well into the future. Burdens will continue to be made lighter.
My head can comprehend all this. But my heart still breaks.
I will be there on Nov. 20 for the final service. I will say a few words, but there will never be enough words or time to express my love for the place and people.
Going forward, I will be caretaker of the building until it sells. Proceeds will go to our conference’s Legacy Fund. The church’s history will be honored as new churches and ministries will be planted.
While I dispose of closed church buildings with regularity, this one feels different. And yet, as the writer of Ecclesiastes reminds me, “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven,” including closing churches.
May the seeds planted during the Carnegie church’s 118-year history continue to bear much fruit.
Belase is director of connectional ministries for the Oklahoma Conference.
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