Members of Fontanelle United Methodist Church recently made the difficult decision to close their church. A meeting with denominational leadership was held last Wednesday, but the decision is the result of the declining number of active members and a lot of thought and prayer over a long period of time.
A closing worship service for the congregation that has existed in the community for almost 150 years will be held 10:30 a.m. Sunday, May 21. Rev. Melissa Drake, the superintendent of the Aldersgate District of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Churches, will preside over the service.
“It makes me feel sad. I think that the world is changing and people’s priorities have changed. I feel like finishing this up is like getting the church ready for a funeral,” said Barb Campbell, the church’s current Administrative Council Chair. “It’s sad because of all that has went on there — baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals — and it’s an empty feeling. You can only do so much, and that’s just where we are at in this country. There are several churches that are closing, and I guess it’s our time.”
The Fontanelle United Methodist Church dates back to 1859, when the Rev. J.W. Todd came to Adair County to form a circuit of eight churches. Fast forward to 1875 and Fontanelle became its own circuit. A church building was built in 1881 and a parsonage in 1925. The original church was located where the fire station and community center are now.
In 1979, a big undertaking for the congregation was constructing the present-day church building at 510 1st St. The first service here was held two days before Christmas that year.
People the newspaper spoke with about the congregation had many memories to share.
Deb Bauer remembers youth activities that were full of life. She remembers many a family wedding there, including her own. She remembers the feeling of camaraderie the congregation enjoyed.
As other churches around the countryside closed, such as Grove Center or Highland, the church experienced new growth.
Cynthia Campbell talked about the music that was played in the church. Not only did she play piano for 65 years, she remembers the church always having a quality choir that sang beautiful melodies. Ruth Means and Wayne Handley are two vocalists church members should remember, and a musical piece recorded by them will be a part of the closing service. She also noted a women’s trio comprised of Ruth Means, Muriel Purdy and Kathye Miller many will remember.
“I’m going to miss all of that,” Cynthia Campbell said.
Cynthia Campbell talked about her mother, Mildred Sears, and how church was the “center of her life.” Womens groups once thrived at the church and experienced high levels of participation.
Over the years, the church had a successful Bible School program in the summertime, and a quality Sunday School program for all ages during the school year.
The church’s fall supper was always popular, as were sub sandwiches on Super Bowl Sunday each year. These events continued in a different form during the pandemic. Worship services were moved online, then returned to in-person after the pandemic.
Pastor Samuel Ansong, who has served the Orient and Fontanelle churches since last year, and will continue serving Orient, hopes this congregation closing does not disrupt the hope that locals carry with them. He hopes that while the closing worship service will be a sad time mixed with happy memories, it will also help those who attend see hope into the future.
“I really do think it’s sad for any church to experience such an event. I don’t think any church, or specifically this church, deserves this experience. Unfortunately, that’s where we’ve found ourselves. That’s what people are going to have to learn to adjust to,” Ansong said. “With that said, I also think that any church that closes is just another opportunity for people to recognize that’s what life allows us to experience. Sometimes what is alive has to experience suffering.”
Ansong continued, saying no one deserves blame for this happening.
“We have to recognize the reality and find ways to move forward in a way that would not bring mental stress or trauma in the near future. Nonetheless, I am certain trauma or some level of stress will dwell upon us. But even when it does, we should not be so quick to avoid it but to work with it in hopes of it sharpening us,” Ansong said. “My hope is that we will not give up on church, because church is what we need in hopes of reconnecting with community. It’s a tough pill to swallow but there is still hope.”