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Church 'closing' after 138 years
After 138 years of existence, the First United Methodist Church of Ceres has voted to close down and join the Hughson church.

Waning membership and financial support resulted in members voting on month two weeks ago to join the Hughson United Methodist Church. The last service in Ceres will be on Dec. 16.

"We've struggled with that issue for years thinking possibly that it would come back," said Pastor Claudio Kelley.

The church membership dwindled to about 25 members, he said.

"It's pretty rough but it's one of those things," said longtime member Eldie Turner of Ceres. "We just gradually went downhill in attendance."

Turner joined the church with his late wife Elsie in 1960.

"It's heart-breaking to think of giving up this church but it can't really be helped it seems," said Wilma Martin who joined in 1954 with her husband, Ozier "Buck" Martin. "It's sure a sad time for us."

Martin noted that other churches are struggling to keep up membership.

"Times are changing. People are not as church oriented as they used to be. Not many people in Ceres go to church. It's sad."

Ironically the church completed its 138 years last month. The remaining members plan on gathering Nov. 11 to celebrate the church's past.

"We're encouraging members to write down memories of being in the church," said Martin.

The church was founded in 1869 when a circuit rider began to establish regular services in the Ceres/Adamsville area before there was any building. The first church building was constructed in 1906 with its first service in January 1907. A new sanctuary at the southwest corner of Sixth and Lawrence streets was dedicated in 1923. It was refurbished in the 1950s.

The congregation is deciding what to do with the church's holdings, which include a parsonage on Seventh Street. Martin believes it will need to be sold.

The Hughson church, which has about 80 members under the leadership of Pastor Tim and Holly Hillman, has expressed interest in the bell and approximately 20 stained-glass windows.

Martin said the church sustained a membership decline when Harvest Presbyterian Church was established in the 1960s. She also remembers the church being devastated when a newly appointed pastor died suddenly. As some of the members grew older, they began having difficulties walking up the flight of stairs to the sanctuary.

"We have so many steps up into the sancturary and many older ones cannot manipulate them. A ramp was installed but I'd say it's too steep.

"Whatever we did was not enough."

Pastor Kelley is optimistic about the merger being a productive one.

"We will be taking our legacy to them," he said of the Hughson church.