Karen Gibson, co-pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church, stands in front of the church her congregation used for much of the 1980s. For the past 18 years, worshippers have shared facilities with St. Mark's Episcopal Church and Lutheran Church of Grace after their old church was closed because of falling attendance and structural flaws.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Karen Gibson, co-pastor of Friendship United Methodist Church, stands in front of the church her congregation used for much of the 1980s. For the past 18 years, worshippers have shared facilities with St. Mark's Episcopal Church and Lutheran Church of Grace after their old church was closed because of falling attendance and structural flaws.

'Twinge of wishing'

Abandoned church building a reminder of congregation's past, possible future

— On Wesley Drive stands a building with boarded windows and fissures growing between its bricks.

The building was once a church, but the sign at the head of the driveway is gone, and churchgoers no longer gather there on Sundays.

Karen Gibson, Friendship United Methodist Church co-pastor, sees the building daily from her kitchen window.

"It's sad to see the building in decline," she said. "It's like seeing what a haunted house would be like."

Gibson helps lead Friendship United Methodist Church - the congregation that once met at the now-abandoned church. From its members, she hears stories of what used to be.

Of the copper cross that once stood on the church's roof.

And of cracks that developed in its floors and walls, causing the members to abandon their new church.

For Gibson, the building is a reminder of a congregation's history - one that began before she and her husband came to Craig more than 10 years ago.

The decaying church also may become a catalyst fueling congregation growth and perhaps someday another building, she said.

'We worked so hard to get it there.'

The Friendship United Methodist congregation hosted its first service in the building on Easter Sunday 1980, former congregant Anna Adams said.

"When I do see it, it brings back memories," she said. "It was just a special time. There were a lot of neat people."

The congregation was small, between 80 and 100 members, and together they volunteered to paint the church, said Peggy Hough, who also attended the church.

"It's sad," she said, referring to the building's current state. "It's sad because we worked so hard to get it there."

The 1980s brought an economic decline that caused many residents to leave, coinciding with structural flaws at the church.

Repairs became too costly for the congregation to support.

Hough said factors such as "ministerial issues" and a dwindling congregation put added strain on the church.

The congregation abandoned the church in the early 1990s, and United Methodist church officials gave them the option to disband.

The congregation, or what was left of it, refused.

Eventually, it began sharing facilities with St. Mark's Episcopal Church, and later Lutheran Church of Grace.

Using another church's building was intended to be a temporary arrangement for the Methodist group.

That was 18 years ago.

'This Is The Day of New Beginnings'

In 1991, Gibson's husband, Phil, moved to Craig, following a job in mine safety health administration. After staying behind in Rifle to watch her two children graduate from high school, Gibson followed three years later.

Coincidentally, they bought a house across the street from the building their congregation used to call its own

As appointed United Methodist pastors, they share leadership over the United Methodist congregation that now rents from the combined churches.

Still, the desire for a separate building and a sense of permanence lingers.

"There is that twinge of wishing for your own building," Gibson said.

She compared her congregation's situation to the Old Testament Israelites in the wilderness: nomadic with no permanent home.

"There's a song, 'This is The Day of New Beginnings,'" she said. "It stirs up that kind of hope that the church will be reunited with the congregation - that they will return."

The abandoned church visible from Gibson's kitchen window is a reminder of what was and what could be again.

"It's just kind of : a reminder that has continued to nag at us," she said. "It's more of a personal drive because of where (Phil and I) live."

Willing to wait

A church building for Friendship United Methodist Church may not be possible soon.

The church would need at least 50 active members to sustain a new building, Gibson said.

Currently, the church has 23 active members and averages 19 individuals a service.

More than 10 years ago, members discussed finding their own location and began a building fund. But members moved away, the congregation shrunk, and "there still wasn't 100 percent support" for a new location, Gibson said.

Gibson said she's trying to build a congregation able to support itself again through church programs.

Gibson doesn't know whether returning to the church on Wesley Drive is an option.

Rented, bought or built, the means of acquiring a church building isn't as important as finding a structure capable of meeting the congregation's need for "Christian education," including Sunday School and weekly services, Gibson said.

It may take years.

But Gibson said she is willing to wait, sustaining the dream that her congregation, like the Old Testament Israelites, eventually will find a permanent home.

"You've got to have that vision out there," she said.

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