First Christian Church of Moline was so busy in the 1960s, there were three services on Sundays and chairs had to be brought in every week to accommodate the crowd.

Dwindling membership and financial support in the past several years, part of a trend seen across the United States, means the church will officially close on Oct. 1.

This date ties to the 111th anniversary of the church founding, and events are planned to start at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 1, with a special service, light lunch and time to share memories beginning at noon.

LaVelle and Paul Stewart, Moline, are longtime members of First Christian Church: LaVelle for 62 years and Paul for 70 years. They recall when the late Rev. Charles Willey did a daily inspirational radio show.

"New members joined us every Sunday, and we had three services on Sundays," LaVelle Stewart said. "We had to set up chairs in the back to accommodate the people."

The decision to close First Christian Church came after many prayers, according to the Rev. Jane Courtright, interim pastor. Courtright, who has a background in helping people to transition and grow in life, joined First Christian more than a year ago, never planning to be part of a church closing.

According to the Gallup Poll, Americans are much less likely now than they were in the past to claim membership in a church, synagogue or mosque.

In 1937, when Gallup first asked about church membership, 73 percent said they were a member of a church. This figure dropped into the upper 60 percent range in the 1980s and decreased from that point on. It fell to its lowest point of 54 percent in 2015 but increased slightly to 56 percent in 2016.

Still, as Stewart said, "It was a very difficult decision to close."

Back in the day

When the church was large and growing, there was a picnic every year at Indian Bluff Forest Preserve. The Stewarts had a pony, and borrowed a second one, to offer children pony rides.

Small games were popular, including when the Stewarts colored rocks gold and hid them. The child collecting the most gold rocks won a prize.

More recently, Emma Jean Dorbeck of Moline remembers when the church hosted a "Trunk or Treat" event every Halloween. This went on about 15 years, she said, and wound down in 2015.

Dorbeck said church members were invited to drive their car and park in a circle with the trunks on the outside. Each car would be decorated, and the owners would hand out treats to children.

There were hot dogs and hot chocolate served, and Dorbeck remembers when a homeless person came and ate six hot dogs.

"Everyone enjoyed this event," she said, including her late husband, Dick, who died two years ago. "It was his favorite time."

Top challenges

Courtright said the top challenges to First Christian are financial and tied to low attendance.

About three months ago, the church board of directors explored the decision to close, and it was ultimately approved by a vote from church members.

The three-story church in the Uptown area of Moline has been sold, but Courtright would not identify the new owner. However, she did describe it as another church.

Money from the building sale, and other funds, will be given back to the community in one-time gifts and also to the parent denomination, Disciples of Christ. There will be perpetual gifts, she said.

"That way, their ministry can go on, financially," she said.

Courtright has made a list of churches in the area for members such as Dorbeck and the Stewarts.

"There are several," she said. "People will find a new church home."

As for Courtright, 61, she and the church staff are job-hunting.

She has served churches for the past 25 years, much of that time in Sheffield, Illinois, but moved in the past few years with her husband to Rock Island.

"We will all find our way to a new place," Stewart said.

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