In its heyday in the 1960s, the Penticton United Church was bursting at the seams, with 796 members of the congregation and over 800 Sunday school children.
Today, the large blue church fills no more than a few dozen seats for Sunday service.
It’s because of this drop in numbers that the iconic church — that has seen thousands of Sunday services, funerals and weddings — is shutting the church for good. They will hold their last service on Thanksgiving Sunday, Oct. 8.
“It’s nice to look back in thankfulness for what we’ve accomplished as a church and the good things we’ve done in the community,” said longtime church member Fern Gibbard, who has been attending since the 1960s. “If you need help through the years, the United Church’s doors were always open.”
At a May congregational meeting, the Penticton United Church members voted to disband.
“This was a painful but necessary decision,” said Marion Kozier, the church’s council chair. “It’s a sad ending of a community of faith that has served God to the best of its ability for 95 years.”
The church could no longer cover the huge costs of insurance to keep the large building going.
In 1985, insurance for the church was about $2,500 a year. This year it was $19,000, said Kozier.
“Almost eight times as much,” she said.
The property, real estate and chattel will revert back to the Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church of Canada.
The future of the building at Main and Eckhardt is still unknown.
For Kozier, she’d love to see it turn into an arts centre.
The church was built in November 1928 to fit a capacity of 600 people. It has many beautiful stained glass windows, a pipe organ and large pulpit built as a gift from a contractor.
The Christian education wing was added in 1952, funded by a brick campaign put on by the Sunday school children. The bells were installed in the sanctuary tower in 1957.
In 1948, the local school burned and the church’s balcony was used as a grade 1 classroom until they could rebuild, said Gibbard.
Just last year they rehomed their pews and brought in chairs. Other items from the church are being brought to other churches as the United Church readies to close.
For the next while, the church building will still be open for users and concerts and will be managed by the Pacific Mountain Region of the United Church of Canada. The larger organization is working on various options for the building.
Many different organizations use the church, including Place Share Preschool, SOS Volunteer Centre, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon, a stamp club and Scouts.
The Penticton Concert Band played in the church in June. The Tune Agers choir practices there.
“The church has great sound,” said Kozier. A lot of good memories, concerts and gathering have taken place in the church, she added.
They are expecting their last service on Oct. 8 to be busy with former members and others from parts of the Okanagan to join. All are welcome to take in the end of an era.