Amherst and Lorain UCC churches to merge congregations on South Main Street

By Jason Hawk -

Three hundred twenty-two years of tradition and more than 100 worshipers will join July 1 when two Amherst and Lorain churches merge.

Following a May 7 vote, the Congregational United Church of Christ of Amherst will embrace the First Congregational United Church of Christ of Lorain.

For about five years, the Lorain church of 25 to 30 people has been trying to decide its course, said the Rev. Brian Burke, who has served as interim pastor in Amherst since November.

The Amherst congregation is larger and has robust youth and family ministries, and so the churches decided to combine under the roof of the small white chapel at 379 South Main St., a stone’s throw from the Church Street fire station.

Believers first established themselves in 1840 and still worship in their original 1843 building.

On banner Sundays, the 160-seat sanctuary will be fairly full. Average Sunday attendance is expected to be around 125.

First Congregational of Lorain came into existence later, in 1872. The ultimate plan is for its building at 423 Washington Ave. to be sold, Burke said.

“Each congregation brings different gifts and strengths to the other,” he wrote in an announcement of the merger. “The Amherst congregation is filled with youth and vitality while the Lorain congregation brings a passion for mission outside the church walls. With similar worship styles and core values, the merged congregation will thrive.”

In a follow-up interview, Burke said the Lorain church has long dedicated itself to serving the needy population of the city’s downtown.

It’s offered hot meals after Sunday worship services. “As long as we maintain the building, we intend to do that, keep that meal ministry going,” he said.

Burke hopes the legacy of serving others continues and that “we’ll be able to start to replicate things that are needed in Amherst and aren’t necessarily offered yet.”

A committee in charge of social action and missions will be tasked with identifying what kind of needs can be met in Amherst.

The combined congregations will choose a new name to reflect their singular new vision and ministry, and will retain an affiliation with the United Church of Christ.

“The transition teams of both congregations have looked at church mergers that succeeded, as well as others that experienced significant challenges or failed,” Burke said. “They are doing their best to incorporate the positive aspects of these experiences and avoid the pitfalls to insure the smoothest possible transition.”

The final worship service of the Lorain congregation in its sanctuary will be on Sunday, June 25 with the merged congregation holding its first official worship service on July 2 — 178 years to the day that the Amherst congregation was founded.

Burke will continue leading the flock until a new pastor is selected. By contract, he cannot be considered for the job, which has allowed him objectivity to lead through the merger period, he said.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk