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Hillsboro Christian becomes latest church to shutter

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HILLSBORO — The congregation of Hillsboro Christian Church will gather for the final time, becoming the latest area flock to confront the wrenching decision of shuttering a house of worship.

After years of shrinking numbers, members voted earlier this year to close and began making plans for the last service. The service will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 27.

“We waited until we were down to just me and no secretary, no associate pastor, no additional educators or paid staff,” said Pastor Garland Pannell, who has led the church for a decade. “We were down to, I imagine, a couple dozen people on a Sunday.”

Hillsboro is at least the fourth area church to close in recent months following Milligan Memorial Presbyterian in Crawfordsville, Phanuel Lutheran in Wallace and Covenant United Methodist in Waveland.

The church had its beginnings in 1867 when meetings were held upstairs in a general store. Services later moved to a one-room schoolhouse until land was donated for a building. The building was dedicated in 1874.

Pannell, who pursued the ministry after a career in the armed services, was called to the church after finishing seminary. The church had about 30 active members.

“It was a cultural learning experience because I’m African American and of course [in] that region, they’re Caucasian,” Pannell said. “In fact, they were all Caucasian except for me so we all learned from each other through this process and that’s a good thing.” 

“A lot of my own preconceptions were laid to rest,” he added.

Pannell soon took on double-duty as minister of Veedersburg First Christian Church, where he will remain. The two churches held Bible studies and shared meals together.

But as the audience kept getting smaller in Hillsboro, members began a series of discussions about the future of the church, Pannell said. By late spring or early summer, the decision was made to close.

Up to 200 churches in the U.S. close every week, according to church business service provider LifeWay Christian Resources. The Disciples of Christ, the denomination overseeing the Hillsboro and Veedersburg churches, earlier launched a plan to form or revamp 2,000 congregations by 2020.

The church may place the building up for sale or auction, Pannell said, in hopes it will attract other congregations searching for permanent worship grounds.

For Pannell, the place holds memories of presiding over his first wedding and numerous funerals.

“Those are occasions you don’t forget,” he said.

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