PORT DEPOSIT — The dwindling congregation of Tome Memorial United Methodist Church has made the painful decision to close the doors of the almost 150-year-old church on North Main Street next month.
Nobody is happy about it, including Bev Narvell.
“I keep praying that something good will come from something bad,” she said.
Now 83, Narvell joined the church when she was 10. She sang in the choir, taught Sunday School and participated in all the activities of a busy, active congregation.
“We were married there; my daughter was married there,” Narvell said. “I have a lot of fond memories.”
The Rev. Joe Archie, district superintendent for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference of the United Methodist Church, said it was the congregation that made the decision to close the church that was founded Oct. 30, 1872. However, it did not come quickly.
“I had a meeting with some of the church leaders in late April,” Archie said, noting he thought the decision would be made then, but it wasn’t. “They weren’t ready in April. Later they met when I wasn’t there ... and decided they want to close and have a big celebration.”
“We don’t pressure churches to close,” Archie added.
Bill Curry said the process is not only painful, but also logistically difficult.
“It’s more involved than just putting a lock on the door and walking away,” Curry said, explaining that no decision has been made about what’s to come of the contents, including rows of heavy dark pews, antique furniture and all the sacred items. “It’s not going to be easy.”
Curry said Sunday that a decision needs to be made on how to secure the building as well as how to cover the cost of insurance until a new owner is found.
Along with the imposing church building, constructed of Port Deposit granite when Jacob Tome was still making his millions in the waterfront town, the property also includes the previous church building across the street, now known as Nesbitt Hall, where Tome Memorial has been worshipping over the summer because the sanctuary is not air conditioned.
Curry came to Tome church as a child when St. Mark’s Episcopal Church moved to Perryville. Lacking transportation to get to the new location, his family walked instead to Tome UMC.
“I haven’t come to terms with it,” Curry admitted.
There was a time when the pews would be full every Sunday and children would attend Sunday School. Anna Cifaldo pointed to herself in a 1956 black-and-white photo showing a children’s choir with more than two dozen members.
Now there are only a handful in the congregation.
“Parts of the church have not been used in a long time,” Narvell said, wondering aloud why folks don’t come to church anymore. The Rev. David Burke, pastor of Tome UMC, welcomed the Sunday morning audience for his sermon titled, “Here I Am, God.”
“Thank you God for your faithfulness to this church for over 145 years,” Burke said.
In spite of the public perception, Curry said parking is not a barrier in Port Deposit.
“We could park 75 cars down there if we had 75 people come,” Curry said.
Marion Dean Creswell is another member of Tome coming to terms with the loss.
“I knew it was going to close,” Creswell, 88, said. “I’m very disappointed.”
Creswell will even say she’s a little upset, noting she joined the church as a young teenager.
“I’ve been a member since I was 13 years old,” she said.
Burke also leads the congregation at Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church in Colora. So far the plans are to hold one last service in the church on Sept. 30, followed by a luncheon, Burke said.
It would be nice if another church would take over the building, they all said. Narvell thinks it may also make a good museum.
Once it is no longer Tome United Methodist Church, the building’s ownership reverts to the UMC conference. However, Archie said the conference is not very interested in the building.
“We don’t want property. We want disciples,” he said.
The invitation to attend other churches has already been extended, Burke said, adding that the work done over the 146 years of Tome UMC will not be forgotten.
“The good news is that the word of God that was deposited at Tome Memorial UMC will not return void. The rich history of transforming lives will continue as a legacy of faith,” Burke said.