But each church has its own story.
So it is with Comstock Park Congregational-United Church of Christ on Lamoreaux Dr. NE, just up the hill a bit from West River Dr. The church closed its doors last November, the final chapter in a 110-year lifetime.
Paul Sommer, the church's historian, can fill you in on details. But the meandering story takes a while to tell.
He begins with the white, clapboard church's historic facility, which shows various expansions made over the decades. There's also a old house attached to its east side.
"That house used to be on West River (Dr.) and was the home of the miller next to the creek," Sommer noted. The small but quick-moving Mill Creek gave the village its original name and still babbles just a stone's throw from the church.
In the 1920s the house was moved adjacent to the church and served as a parish residence.
Spinning through its ups and downs of the 20th Century, the church survived lean years during the 1970s. The UCC Michigan Conference actually recommended its closing. But it surged over the next decade, adding classrooms, office space – even installing an elevator for a growing populace.
THE COURSE DOWNWARD
But the path to further decline careened 15 or so years ago from a divisive pastorate that essentially halved its worship attendance. "Actually, we never really recovered from that," Sommer admitted. The remaining members regrouped and kept things going.
The building stayed busy. As recently as a year ago, four different A.A. groups and several weight loss groups met weekly at the church facility.
Their previous pastor retired and a prolonged search concluded with the hiring of a new part-time pastor. Her first day was March 1, 2020 – what turned out to be a tipping-point month in a virus-plagued year.
Fortunately, the church had already decided to "Facebook Live" its worship services as a form of outreach. "I remember the Comcast guy was here installing high speed internet on the same day that the governor shut things down." Sommer said of the mid-March edict.
In-person worship attendance fluctuated downward, affected by health guidelines. But when online participants were counted, attendance equaled pre-COVID numbers. In fact, Sommer said, the pandemic was not a major factor in the church's decision to close.
The backbreaker was the new pastor's sudden and surprise departure in September – with only a couple of days notice. (Sommer had to lead worship the Sunday following her resignation).
"Although there's usually no one reason a church closes, that was the final nail," he said. "We just couldn't sustain another extended search process." The membership voted to start the closing process.
One of the hardest things for Sommer following the closing was the sale of his church's long-treasured hand-bell collection.
"Another church bought them and came to pick them up," recalled Sommer, who also is the church director of music. "It was very emotional moment for me, and I had to step away for a few minutes to compose myself."
Sommer was in charge of the closing committee, disbursing some of the church's assets.
Once the decision was made, a transitional pastor from the denomination arrived to assist with the closing process. Rev. Andrew DeBraber described himself as their "hospice pastor." He led the church for its final six weeks and presided at its completion of ministry service Nov. 22.
With hybrid worship through most of the fall, the church averaged about 15 in-person worshippers with more online. The final service was virtual-only as restrictions tightened once again.
The possibility of merging with another UCC church was considered.
"No (other church) stepped forward to say, 'You'd be a good fit for us,'" Sommer noted. "Our church actually is quite diverse politically and in other ways, and we didn't see ourselves saying we were all going to merge with one particular church."
As often happens, there was push-back regarding the move to conclude ministry. "When we announced our closing there were several members who hadn't been in church for a while who had re-connected via the online services," Sommer said. "They were ready to come back."
He said that the journey to closure came over many years and members had seen it looming. They took steps to "delay the inevitable," but trends and circumstances prevailed. This historic Comstock Park church, which had served community meals for 10-cents during the Depression, saw an end date appear on its calendar.
Read part two: Piecing together the final worship, and where the church road leads next