"[Our] three kids all went through the church. I think that's the hardest thing for a lot of folks is we've raised our kids in the church," said Butch Ries, Euharlee resident and elder at Euharlee Presbyterian. "[So] now, closing the doors, it was pretty sentimental for a lot of the families.
"What I enjoyed [most about the church] No. 1 is that it was pretty laid back. You'd walk in and even though it was established in 1853, you walked in and you felt part of the church. It felt like your home and a place that you ... could go, feel comfortable, get involved in things as much as you wanted to get involved with and establish new friends."
The decision to close the church's doors was a combination of dwindling members and revenue, Ries said, adding attendance fluctuated in the past two years from 40 to 15 people.
"Back in 2000, the church was able to financially [build] a new education building," Ries said. "They were able to hire a full-time minister and attendance exploded. At some point, we got up to nearly 150 members prior to 2005 and then our minister decided he had another calling elsewhere and left. ... So ever since then, we had a loss of folks in the church. Membership declined and then with declining membership comes, obviously for a church, declining revenues coming in.
"It's very difficult for a church, especially one that had grown, to maintain and grow without a full-time minister. After he left, we had a search committee for a new minister, but being realistic, without help going forward after we lost revenues and people, there was no way we could afford a full-time minister. So we kept hiring part-time ministers but basically there was no more money after [the start of] this year to proceed and keep the doors open," he said, adding the church's last part-time minister was Jennifer Lee.
Even though Euharlee Presbyterian's doors are closed, without plans for additional services, the Cherokee Presbytery will vote in February to ratify its decision to close.
"I think everybody's in agreement with them but we haven't taken the vote yet," said the Rev. Rebecca M. Blackwell, mission coordinator and stated clerk for the Cherokee Presbytery. "We will do that in our February meeting. In the meantime, we have a group working with some of the folks there at Euharlee to bring a proposal to the Presbytery [concerning the] ongoing care and management of the cemetery and the historical building. And then figuring out what to do with the rest of the parcel there that includes that newer building right there down on the corner. So nothing's final yet and it won't be final until February. But they have at this point had their last worship service there and the intention is to find a way to make sure that the cemetery and the historical building are maintained. ... There is a trust that has been managing the cemetery for a number of years now so that trust is going to continue.
"So one of the proposals that I anticipate the Presbytery will be favorable to is to let them basically have that land and hopefully attach the historical sanctuary to that parcel. So that we would deed the land over to them because the way our church works, each church may have their own name on the title of the property but they hold it in trust for the denomination. The church was filled with a bunch of wonderful people and we are grateful for the ministry they've had in that place and I'm sorry that that ministry has come to a conclusion but we do desire for there to be an ongoing presence and reminder of that ministry be it the cemetery and the historical building there."
Along with the church -- 61 Covered Bridge Road -- becoming a part of the existing trust for the cemetery, Ries said it is the church's hope that the education building be sold or leased with the Cherokee Presbytery's blessing, with the funds assisting in the preservation of the other properties.
With Euharlee Presbyterian dating back to the 1850s, Euharlee Historical Society member Wanda Cagle Gray said the church and its members have played an integral part in the town's history. With this in mind, the EHS placed the church on its Christmas in Euharlee: A Tour of Historic Homes last December, which featured four residences and two historic sites. Among the information shared with tour participants were the facts that the church's original pews remain in the building and honeybees resided for many years in the structure's roof.
"It's just sad," Gray said, "but yet we hope we can continue to show the history of Euharlee with that building and with the stories that come from that building throughout the past hundred and some odd years."