MOUNT CLIFTON UMC

The Mount Clifton United Methodist Church near Mount Jackson, which was established 137 years ago, has closed due to dwindling membership.

A little country church located on a hill on Route 263, just five miles outside of Mount Jackson heading toward Bryce, did not survive the year of COVID-19. Membership had been falling over the years, but then came the pandemic.

Members of the Mount Clifton United Methodist Church, which was established 137 years ago, gathered for the last time on June 5 for a celebration of ministry service with Pastor Darlene Wilkins officiating. Lisa Coffelt, a certified lay pastor who was Wilkins’ assistant from July 2015 to December 2020, and former pastors Glen Early and Vicki Barb participated in the service.

“It was getting to the point where it wasn’t sustainable before the pandemic, and the pandemic kind of sealed the decision there,” Wilkins said during a phone interview on Wednesday about closing the church.

She said that Mount Clifton’s last worship service was in March 2020, when the pandemic swept into Virginia.

The four churches in the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Charge — Mount Clifton, Otterbein Chapel, Mount Hermon and Hawkinstown — closed in-person worship during the pandemic, and then one by one all but Mount Clifton reopened last fall. It was decided in November, Wilkins said, that the church would remain closed. A Charge, Wilkins described, is a “group of churches yoked together and served by the same pastor/s.”

Longtime member Glenna Casto, 73, grew up three miles away from the church and had attended it since she was a child.

“Our membership grew to be very small. The financial support dwindled,” Casto said during a phone interview. Membership as of June 5, she added, was about 50. “However, our attendance ranged from eight to 15 on a given Sunday, so it was a very small congregation.”

The church can seat around 200 people.

“When I grew up in the church, I remember a very active Sunday school and youth group, but as they aged, they moved away and our young people just didn’t attend (so) that it could continue. We lost that ability to grow,” Casto said.

Before COVID-19, Casto said the church would hold regular services and homecomings.

“We had a very active United Methodist Women group,” Casto recalled. “We raised funds, amazingly, being blessed by that ability, and we supported the (Mount Jackson) food pantry and Family Promise, the Meals on Wheels, A Small Hand. We contributed to I think it was eight different nonprofits in the county,” she said.

They also had a mission project at Stoney Creek Adult Care in Edinburg.

“We went there on a monthly basis, provided refreshments, and played bingo,” she said. “It breaks my heart that we’re unable to be in there. When COVID hit, we were unable to go into Stoney Creek.”

She added that during the pandemic they would drop off refreshments “just to let them know we were still thinking of them and that we care.”

When COVID-19 restrictions began, she said a sister church held services online. Now, Mount Clifton members, she said, have moved on to other churches.

Wilkins said the closing of Mount Clifton has prompted a restructuring of the Charge that will take place on July 1. She said that Coffelt will be a part-time certified lay pastor for Hawkinstown, 10471 Old Valley Pike in Mount Jackson, and Otterbein Chapel, 8514 South Middle Road in Mount Jackson. Mount Hermon, 3821 Orkney Grade near Basye, will have a part-time pastor yet to be determined.

Wilkins said she will be retiring effective July 1, noting in an email that it has been “a privilege to serve these churches since July 2012.”

Members of Mount Clifton, Wilkins said, will be transferred to Otterbein Chapel unless they designate otherwise.

As for the little white church on the hill at 31 Mt. Clifton Church Lane, Wilkson said the Virginia United Methodist Conference may rent it to another congregation or put it up for sale.

Contact Linda Ash at linda@nvdaily.com