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The end of an era

After 111 years of ministry, the Lytton First Presbyterian church gathers to celebrate

October 29, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

LYTTON - It was a difficult day for many attending the final worship service of the Lytton First Presbyterian Church.

But don't say that a "church" is closing, said the Rev. B.J. Ukena. A building is not a church; church is the people who come together in Jesus' name.

"It's unfortunate we call our buildings churches. It causes confusion for our children. I've struggled with that in Confirmation," Ukena told the congregation in the final sermon.

Article Photos

The Rev. Wayne Pfannkuch presents the bread and the cup of communion for the last time.

In spite of his teaching efforts, the kids always define "church" as the place where people come to worship, Ukena said.

"I tell them, get in here, tear it all down, haul all the bricks away, and what you have left is the church. The church is left after the building is gone. The church is us."

Closing a building does not mean a church has died; it means the church will move on and meet somewhere else, he said.

Ukena served at this church in the past and currently preaches at First Presbyterian in Carroll.

First Presbyterian of Lytton no longer has a big enough congregation to keep the building going. However, for the final service, more than 130 people packed all the pews, the three overflow rows in the back and the balcony for one last chance to worship in the building.

"I didn't think we'd have quite this many," said the Rev. Wayne Pfannkuch, the church's pastor for more than 10 years.

"This is how it was when I was a kid," said Alan Albright, a member of the church leadership, as he greeted people at the door. "We used to fill the balcony too."

These days the congregation is down to 10 or 12 people during winter, he said. "It's just not enough to keep a church going."

"It's a sign of the times," Pfannkuch said. "The school closed while I was here, and now the church."

The current brick building was built in 1930 after the congregation outgrew its wooden church building. That congregation officially came together in 1901, according to a church history compiled and typed into the bulletin by the pastor's wife, Irene Pfannkuch.

The church held numerous programs for the Lytton community, such as an ecumenical after school program for Middle School students and the Christian Crusaders program that provided transportation in Lytton.

JoAnn Albright has attended this church for 75 years, and told the congregation of the many choirs that once sang in the church. She recalled the time when the church rented farm land.

"I was a kid then, so I got to go walk the beans," she said.

She spoke fondly of a church group called the Mariners.

"We met monthly, and we had projects we did for the church. We did church treats at Christmastime, and the church picnic - we were just the main body of the church," she explained after the service.

The wonderful thing about that group was how well the members got to know each other, JoAnn Albright said. Conversely, one of the saddest parts of closing the church is splitting people up.

"Everybody's going their own way, to Sac City, Lake City, or the Lutheran Church," she said. "My grandkids were all sitting here, and it's splitting our family up. We're all probably going in different directions. I don't know where they're going."

Melvin Haden has been a member of the church for 73 years, and started coming before that.

"I started Sunday School over in that corner in 1932," he said, as the congregation met in the basement for refreshments. "I was a Sunday School teacher, a youth leader, an elder since 1955."

The church had 300 members in the 1970s, Haden said, more than could fit in the building. They had to hold two services.

He had trouble defining his feelings on the church closing.

"I don't know what word to use. Sad, I guess," he said.

Haden doesn't know what church he'll attend now.

Deann Haden-Luke was born and raised in the church.

"It's very difficult, very sad. I moved away 20 years ago, but you always think that the church is going to be here as a source of security and reassurance," she said. "You don't imagine that fading away."

Irene Pfannkuch said the building will be offered for sale.

"We're going to take bids, then the Session, which is the governing body of the church, will make a recommendation and the congregation will vote," she said.



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