The final prayers have been made and the last hymns have been sung at Riceville United Church.
The church has closed; the last service took place on Sunday, October 27.
According to Catherine Clemens, the recording secretary for the church, the congregation could no longer cover its expenses. Riceville, and a church in Pendleton had been part of the Genesis Cooperative since 2010. The cooperative is a partnership of United congregations in Prescott-Russell and North Glengarry that share a minister and work together on other ministries and activities. The Reverend Phyllis Dietrich is the current minister and lay people also assist with leading services.
The executive committee of the Riceville church held a meeting and shared financial information with those who attended in order to arrive at the decision to close the building. Services were not being held at the Riceville church during the winter because it is a larger building and cost more to heat. Clemens said 15 to 18 people would typically attend services at Pendleton, and five of them were generally Riceville members.
The Riceville United Church building has already been sold. The congregation is still trying to find homes for some of the furnishings and fixtures from the building but Clemens said many of the contents will be retained by the new owner. Other items like hymn books and communion items will be donated to other congregations to use.
Clemens said that not all of the Riceville congregation members have decided where they will attend church now and that they are trying to “find their niche.” At the final service on October 27, about 90 people attended, and Clemens estimated that 25 of those people were Riceville congregation members.
“We had a lovely closing service which was well-attended by people in our community, our families, along with our friends from the congregations within our Genesis Cooperative,” said Clemens.
The Riceville United Church has a history going back to 1835 when traveling Methodist minister the Reverend James McNally visited the community and baptized people in the Scotch River. By 1847, ministers visited from Vankleek Hill and held services in Riceville every two weeks.
The first church Methodist church building opened at Franklin’s Corners in 1849, and a second church west of Riceville was built in 1869. It was known as the Little White Church and stood until 1902 when the present building was completed. The Reverend Calvert, the minister at the time, designed the building himself. He laid it out so that people who arrived late would be seen by the entire congregation with the idea that their judgement would deter further tardiness.
In 1925 the Methodist Church, Congregational Church, and some Presbyterian congregations merged to form the United Church of Canada and the Riceville Methodists became Riceville United Church.
During the past 94 years, Riceville United Church has also had a choir, Sunday school, and Young People’s Union.
Church closures are taking place in many Canadian communities as a result of an aging population, declining rural communities and smaller congregations due to changing beliefs and habits in society.