Nova Scotia

Amherst church congregation selling 98-year-old sanctuary

A Nova Scotia church congregation has moved in with the Freemasons after putting its old building up for sale.

'Heartbreaking' decision to sell Immanuel United Church building comes after years of declining attendance

The church building is on the market for $49,000. (Google Streetview)

A Nova Scotia church congregation has moved in with the Freemasons after putting its old building up for sale.

Immanuel United Church has stood in Amherst for 98 years, but declining membership and increasing costs forced the members out of the sanctuary. 

Art Foster started attending the church as a teenager. The Amherst senior, who most people call Sonny, remembers more dynamic days. 

"We were a pretty active organization at one time. We had Sunday schools with 40 or 50 kids in it and a large attendance, but it slowly died away and the young people are not participating," he told CBC News Monday. 

About 24 people attend the church these days. Instead of trying to constantly raise money to maintain the building, they're selling it. It's listed for $49,000 and they've had several offers. 

'Heartbreaking' decision to leave

Foster said leaving the congregation's nearly century-old home and looking for a new place to worship was a tough decision.

"We all felt really bad about it. We still do. It's a heartbreaking thing when you get right down to it."

After trying a few spots, they've settled on the Masonic Lodge in Amherst.

Ruth Gambel, a lay minister at the church, said they arrive early each Sunday evening to turn a corner of the lodge into a Christian sanctuary. 

"We have moved a temporary pulpit over there and we have our offering plate tables and we have a place to light our Christ candle. It's very centred around the pulpit and the circle of chairs that we share," she said. 

Gambel said it's a reminder that a church is as much about the people as it is the building. 

Sticking together as 'a family'

"There is camaraderie — that's why we wanted to stay together as a congregation, because there is camaraderie. Some of those folks were married in the church 50 years ago and have been going since they were children."

They had looked at joining other churches in the area, but decided to stick together "in the spirituality of wanting to remain a family."

Gambel retired in June, so they're also looking for a new minister. 

"We have hope, and we have faith, and we have trust that all will be well, and that we journey with God, and we are not alone. We worship in faith."

The church members will meet at the Mason hall until after Christmas. Then, they'll decide to either keep that going, or look for another home.