EMERADO, N.D. – On Sunday, Dec. 2, 1928, the Emerado Presbyterian Church congregation gathered for the dedication of a new worship space. Ninety-two years and about 4,700 Sundays later, on Aug. 16, 2020, the congregation will worship together for the last time.

A dwindling rural population, an aging congregation and a decline in the number of young people who attend services has resulted in financial hardship for the church, said Sally Jacobson, a longtime member. As a result, church members voted to close it.

While Emerado Presbyterian Church members say they will be sad during the desanctification service Sunday, they are comforted knowing that the church will not fall into disrepair. The church sanctuary will be used as a museum and the basement will house a food pantry. The Emerado Community Development Commission will own the museum, and the Emerado Volunteer Fire Department will run the food pantry, in cooperation with a food bank.

The food pantry will be important to the community, whose members needing food and other personal care now have to travel to other towns to obtain it.

Meanwhile, the Emerado museum will showcase the history of the town and preserve the history of the church.

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Closing the church, built by the late Joseph Bell DeRemer and his son, Samuel Teel DeRemer, was a difficult decision for the remaining dozen or so congregation members, some of whom have ancestors who were present for the dedication ceremony. The church has a long history in the community, beginning in 1880 when services were held in a claim shanty six miles west of Emerado. In 1887, a church was built in Emerado and worshipers attended services there until the building burned in May 1928. By December of that same year, they were in a newly constructed church.

In the early days of the church, as many as 125 people attended Sunday services, Jacobson said. And as recently as 1981, about 90 parishioners were members.

Nicole Martin, at age 46 one of the youngest adult members of Emerado Presbyterian Church, recalls that during the 1980s, the church held Sunday School classes and vacation Bible School. Confirmations and baptisms still were fairly frequent.

That has changed during the last two decades, with the last confirmation at the church held 13 years ago, and the last baptism about six years ago.

The decline in church membership at Emerado Presbyterian is not unique, said the Rev. Raenelle Sorensen, pastor of the Yoke Parish of Emerado Presbyterian, Arvilla (N.D.) Presbyterian and Larimore (N.D.) Methodist.

“There are an awful lot of churches and very few people,” Sorenson. “It used to kind of be an outing. The church was full."

Sunday morning worship has been replaced by sports and other children’s activities, she said.

“Our communities are fragmented,” Sorenson said. Besides having other obligations on Sundays, parents sometimes use the day to decompress, instead of attending church services, because they are tired from working all week and driving their children to various commitments.

“I think many kids are missing out on any kind of ability to grow their faith because it’s not a priority for many families,” Sorenson said.

But for the church’s loyal members, such as Martin, the other members have become family.

“This was always our home. Even when we lived in Denver, this was our home church,” said Martin, who moved back to Emerado and now attends services at the church with her two children, Grace and Hayden.

Feryl McEwen has been a member of the church for 49 years, joining when she, her husband and three children moved to a farm west of Emerado.

“They came in '71, so they’re ‘newbies,’” Jacobson said with a laugh. Jacobson, 75, has belonged to Emerado Presbyterian her entire life, continuing to attend services and play the organ long after she and her husband moved to Grand Forks.

“We’re family with people here,” Jacobson. “I was baptized here. I was married here. Our kids were married here, baptized here."

She and other members are pleased, though. After the final worship service, people still will have an opportunity to climb up and down the steps and enter a well-maintained building at 208 Main Street in Emerado.

“There’s so much history, I thought it would be good to preserve it. We can keep our religious and historic items here, and when people come back, they can see the things,” Jacobson said. “I’m glad we have a plan. We’re grateful for that.”