WILMINGTON — A church that has served the downtown community for almost two centuries has ceased operations.
According to a press release from the NC Conference of the United Methodist Church, Fifth Avenue UMC has closed due to “declining membership.”
“This decision was reached after careful consideration and prayerful discernment and is due to declining membership and the local community’s clear, present, and pressing needs,” according to the release.
Though the UMC congregation will no longer meet, the historic building will remain under the conference’s ownership. The goal is to utilize it for other ministries that need help serving Wilmington parishioners.
“While we do not regularly send out messages about closed churches,” a spokesperson said in the release, “due to the divisive climate in the United Methodist Church right now, we wanted to be as transparent as possible about this changing missional opportunity.”
The UMC split at the end of last year, with congregations departing to join the conservative Global Methodist Church. This included churches in multiple Southern states, from Texas to North Carolina to Arkansas. Many considered the UMC too liberal on cultural issues, mainly LGBTQ rights.
Last fall, more than 200 United Methodist churches in North Carolina voted to disaffiliate from the denomination over its LGBTQ guidelines. The North Carolina Conference stated at that time it equaled 32 percent of its congregations, roughly 22 percent of membership.
Among those that disaffiliated was the Pine Valley Methodist Church.
“In a time when churches across the country face similar challenges, many find new ways to thrive in the face of adversity,” its release noted. “The NC Conference will pursue opportunities to continue serving the community meaningfully through this location.”
The church started as the Fifth Street Methodist Episcopal Church in 1847, with the congregation meeting at private homes along Castle and Church streets until land was donated in 1849 for construction of its first building. The structure was remodeled through 1888, before the brick building seen today began construction in 1889.
In 1974 the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
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