Congregation prepares for 'heartbreaking' final service

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comMay 23, 2014 

Dot Ward said there will plenty of crying during the 11 a.m. Sunday service at Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Columbus.

"It is still hard to believe that this is the end," said the longtime member. "We just don't have the funds or the people to keep it going."

The brick building on 40th Street, which has been the church's home since 1936, is being given to the Columbus Baptist Association.

The church was established Oct. 12, 1924. There are now only about 25 active members and most of them are senior citizens.

Jimmy Blanton, the Columbus Baptist Association's leader, said Highland Community Church on Fifth Avenue, led by pastor Rob Strickland, will do some ministry at Porter Memorial beginning this summer.

Blanton said that the members of Porter Memorial are doing an honorable thing by donating the church.

"It is a great gift," he said.

The Rev. Ron Middleton, pastor at Porter Memorial since September 2013, said it is one of the most beautiful churches he has ever been in.

"I fell in love with it the first time I walked in here," he said. "There are a lot of pretty churches but this one is special. You can see the love the people have for their church because it is in wonderful condition."

As for the church closing, he said the situation is not unique.

"It's happening everywhere," he said. "Communities change."

The church was originally Tabernacle Baptist Church and then Bibb City Baptist Church. It got early support from First Baptist Church. It became Porter Memorial when it moved from a location on 38th Street to where it now stands.

Ward said, that at one time, the church had about 400 members and was very active in the community with many programs.

"We lost a lot when the mills began closing," she said.

"People just moved away," her husband, Earl, added. "They lived somewhere else and found someplace else to worship."

The couple have been members of the church for 66 years, although Earl began attending when he was a baby in 1924.

"I may wear a black dress Sunday," Ward said. "It will be like a funeral."

Both said they are glad the structure will still be used to do God's work.

Their daughter, Glenda Medley, said the church has struggled for a long time

"This is heartbreaking," said Medley, who has been a member for 53 years. "We have just gone slowly down, down, down."

Mary Messer, a member since 1945, hopes that some past members and pastors might stop by Sunday.

She called the closing of Porter Memorial devastating.

"This has been home," Messer said. "We knew it could never be like it once was, but we hoped to be able to keep going. We just couldn't."

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