After 58 years, Church of the Good Shepherd Presbyterian in Anniston will be closing its doors the final Sunday in May.
“The church has been declining, like many other churches, probably for at least five years,” said Jim Wilson, the stand-in pastor at Good Shepherd who also serves as chaplain at Regional Medical Center. “A church is like a family. If members diminish, eventually there is no one left.”
According to church documents, active membership at Good Shepherd has declined from 144 in 1986 to around 40 currently.
The decision was not an easy one, voted on by the church’s congregation in March. The original plan was to see if another church would be willing to merge with the church on the Good Shepherd campus. If this plan didn’t work out, the congregation agreed to close its doors at the end of May.
“They are looking for a place to move on together, since they weren’t able to interest anyone in merging with them,” Wilson said.
Larry Dawson, a member of Good Shepherd since 1967, is sad that his childhood church is closing its doors, but he is looking forward to strengthening another local church with his long-time church family.
“As a congregation, we have four locations that we are going to visit starting June 9 through the end of the month, then hopefully we can make a decision where most of us can go together,” Dawson said.
Membership in the the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) as a whole has been on a steady decline for years, according to statistics gathered by the Office of the General Assembly. Since 2015, the PCUSA has lost 481 churches, and active membership has declined by almost 220,000 members.
During its time in service, Good Shepherd has contributed significantly to the community financially and through ministry. Since its beginning in 1961, the church has baptized more than 500 people and donated thousands of volunteer hours and dollars to various nonprofits, including the Presbyterian Home for Children in Talladega.
“[The founders] pledged 50 percent of the funds to certain charities. This was continued until 1969,” said Minnie Watson, a member since 2000 and current secretary. “Since then, we had always given at least 20 percent to local charities.”
Dawson said the women at the church have done “an incredible job” forming a relationship with the Presbyterian Home for Children. The home, which started out as a cottage for girls in foster care in Alabama, now offers living space for single mothers and their children; girls over 18 who have nowhere to go; and girls under 18 still in the foster care system. Even though Good Shepherd’s membership has been declining, the church has continued to be heavily involved with the younger girls.
“We provide gifts and money for the girls for every holiday and birthday,” said Watson. “We decorate the home for Christmas, and we used to have a Halloween party when we had a bigger congregation.”
The girls also attend a church service at Good Shepherd at least once a month, where they are loved on by the members and able to participate in the music and service if they are interested, according to Watson and Dawson.
“We try to have a big meal when we know they are coming,” Dawson said.
When the church officially closes its doors, 60 percent of its remaining funds will go to the children’s home. The rest will primarily go to various charities that the church partners with.
Church of the Good Shepherd Kindergarten, which was founded in 1962 and serves children ages 3-5, will also be closing. The church building is for sale.
The final service at Good Shepherd will be May 26 at 11 a.m., followed by a luncheon. It will be a “homecoming” event for all former and current members, giving them the chance to worship as a congregation one last time.
“We are hoping that some of those people who have been members before will come and join us and celebrate a ministry that has been more than 50 years,” Wilson said.