SHELBY TOWNSHIP — A Methodist church at 24 Mile Road and Van Dyke Avenue, now known as New Hope United Methodist Church, has its roots in local history dating to around 1863.
On the evening of April 23, approximately 20 members showed up to vote on a church committee recommendation to continue through July 1 and then close the doors for good.
Jim Stark, who is one of eight church board members and who has attended New Hope United Methodist Church for the last 15 years, said that the closure is due to financial issues.
Stark was a member of the committee that looked at other options, such as merging with another church, but it decided to recommend dissolving.
“It’s a business, and from that standpoint, it’s just not viable anymore for a variety of reasons,” Stark said. “It’s like anything in life. We had a decline in membership, and we haven’t been able to rebound. It’s never a fun thing.”
Stark said the Methodist church owns the land, but he does not yet know what the plans for the property and building will be.
He added that the church has a 2-inch-thick three-ring binder that is full of newspaper articles from the 1880s to the 1950s.
Steve Evanoff, who has led the church’s 12-step program for 15 years, said that while there are about 130 registered members, only about 30 show up for Sunday service.
Evanoff lamented the closure and said the church offered a variety of ministries, from rebuilding homes in New Orleans to feeding and clothing the homeless. He said he never canceled a midnight 12-step program meeting, persevering through power outages, storms and New Year’s Eve nights.
“We tried to get new, younger people in the church,” he said. “One of the youngest members is 60 years old.”
He said there was dissention among the congregation after a pastor did not work out about four years ago, and then many members left after the church went through a string of temporary pastors prior to the Rev. Carter Cortelyou’s arrival last year.
“I knew from my arrival (on July 1) that that the situation was very difficult financially, but folks always treated me very kindly,” Cortelyou said. “It would have been easy in a situation like this to blame the last pastor there.”
Cortelyou said the current congregation is a mix of members from before and after a merger that occurred in the 1990s with another Macomb-area Methodist church.
“I’ve been a United Methodist pastor since 1990. I’ve served a lot of historic congregations with a long history, so this is pretty familiar territory,” Cortelyou said.
Prior to his current post, Cortelyou led a Methodist church in Royal Oak that merged with a larger church. After July 1, he will assume a new appointment at First United Methodist Church in Wayne, west of Dearborn.
“A lot of folks were sad for the loss and wondering where things go next,” Cortelyou said.
He said that except for three members who were assigned in January to serve other churches as laypersons, the church has no firm plans for the future.
“It’s a little sad that one more historic presence that made the village of Disco is now leaving,” said Hilary Davis, of the Shelby Historical Committee. The village of Disco was the forerunner of Shelby Township.
Davis said that before the Methodists built Disco United Methodist Church in 1890, they occupied the upper floor of Disco Academy schoolhouse, one of the first structures in the area in 1863.
In 1979, the congregation changed its name to Hope United Methodist Church after the area became known as Shelby Township.
In 1997, the church constructed a new building. The Shelby Historical Committee relocated the century-old building, renamed Hope Chapel, to the township’s municipal grounds for preservation in 2001.