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‘78 years of prayers’

by R. HANS MILLER
Managing Editor | March 28, 2024 2:00 AM

EPHRATA — After more than 70 years, Ephrata’s Memorial Christian Church will soon shut down after decades of service to the community, Pastor Don Dunn and church elders said in an interview with the Columbia Basin Herald last week.

“It’s an aging thing ... ” Dunn said. “One of the people in another church in town says that they’re aging out, and I think we’ve kind of aged out and the ministry has changed.” 

While many of the church’s members have been there most of their adult lives, if not since they were children, Dunn said younger folks haven’t stuck around. Dunn said he’s been with the church for about a decade out of its tenure in town, and he knows the church’s history has been strong in support of families and a variety of good causes in the community even before he arrived on the pulpit.

“I believe they were very strong with family ties within the church and children’s and youth ministries,” he said. “They have contributed to the leadership in the region with (church) camps and the regional ministry of this denomination.” 

The church is part of the Disciples of Christ denomination which Dunn said began more as a movement within European-based churches. A large part of the denomination’s belief is wrapped around access to communion for members without some of the rules for that access that other churches impose. 

Locally, the history of the church is more personal for members like Mary Barbre and her husband Cliff Barbre.

“I was practically born here,” Cliff said. “My mom and dad moved to this area in 1946. I was born in 1945 and we moved here in January 1946, and my dad helped put the church here and we’ve sort of been here the rest of our lives.” 

Special memories are associated with supporting good causes in the community and celebrating the holidays, especially Christmas. Memorial Christian has a reputation for dutifully putting on a living nativity scene each Christmas season — something Cliff said he’s sure he put up at least 16 times — and that has some particularly good memories.

Pam Cook said the church has been home to her family’s baptisms, weddings, funerals and even a special night after a nativity scene.

“My youngest son played Joseph and his fiancee played Mary, in the nativity scene outside and he went down on one knee when it was all over and proposed,” Pam said. 

Other memories that made the church elders smile included ministries that they knew had done good in the community. The church has had a good record of being a church that teaches God’s word, they said, but it’s also given out coats through His Helping Hands, given to missions around the world, helped with backpack and school supply drives, given out hats, gloves, coats and socks in winter and supported a community bazaar and helped with the local Relay for Life event – among a much longer list. Some of the positive impacts may never be understood, they said. 

“One thing I’m thinking of quite frequently is what we, as a congregation, have passed on to the next generation that we may not even know about,” Mary said. 

Pam said she understood that at one point, despite many in the congregation being older, the current elders were the next generation. 

Pam’s husband, Mike Cook, was an example of that when he was injured at work when the couple was younger. They’d just arrived in Ephrata, she said, and he had gotten hurt at work which eventually led to him being paralyzed and wheelchair bound. The church lifted them up and supported them as he went through treatment and the family has always been grateful for that. 

Cliff and Mike help oversee grounds maintenance at the church, at least until the building sells. 

The church building itself was built on the old military base where the Port of Ephrata is now but was moved roughly a year after to its current foundation. Its current location at 453 Division Avenue E is now surrounded by businesses like a tinting shop and a roofing company, but when it arrived in the 1940s, it was considered out in the country, the elders said. 

Members of the church said they’re said that the church is closing and they’re not sure where each member of the congregation will go to church. Many of them are home-bound due to their age, but Dunn said he expects some will attend the other church he serves, United Methodist Church, but that’s up to each person’s faith and calling. The church has some resources that it hopes to utilize or distribute in good faith, but a final decision hasn’t been made regarding those resources as yet. Finding new church homes and maintaining faith will be up to each member though.

“There’s stages of faith that people go through in relationship to a church and membership and God in their life,” Dunn said. “And it can change. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they stay on the same trajectory, but they are at least empowered to make a decision about what they feel God is desiring for them. That’s our hope and prayer.” 

Whatever organization purchases the church grounds and building is getting a blessing when they do so, he said. 

“I would say there’s 78 years of prayers stored away in the walls,” Dunn said. “And the ‘for sale’ sign may be representative of a seed falling into the ground to give birth and new life to our world.” 

    Memorial Christian Church at its first location on the air base in Ephrata in the 1940s. The building was eventually moved with a lot of community effort.
 
 
    From left to right: Memorial Christian Church Elder Cliff Barbre, Pastor Don Dunn and Elders Mary Barbre and Pam Cook. All four said the church has left a lasting impression on their lives and they hope the future of the building will see it continuing to bless the community.
 
 
    A ‘for sale’ sign outside of Memorial Christian Church in Ephrata. Pastor Don Dunn said he is hopeful that it represents the planting of a seed for new life for the church.