Maple Lake United Church has put out an SOS.

Rev. Max Ward wrote local media last week to say, “Our little Maple Lake United Church is in trouble and is reaching out to the community.”

He provided correspondence that was sent Nov. 25 to members, adherents and friends of the church.

“We are hopeful that with a bit of awareness, the church might be able to continue for many years to come into the future but the current outlook isn’t good without an infusion of more people to help with the volunteer work and financial support needed to operate the church.” Ward said.

A few years ago, Zion United Church, Minden United Church and Maple Lake United Church were in talks to amalgamate. Maple Lake opted out at that time but Minden and Zion did amalgamate and the result is Highland Hills United Church in Minden. The Zion church and property were sold and have a new life in the community as a bakery and antique shop.

In the Nov. 25 correspondence, written by Ward, Larry Giles, Deloris Baily and Beverly Upton, they said that after church Nov. 21, a congregational meeting was held to discuss the future of the Hwy. 118 and Stanhope Airport Road house of worship, erected in 1901.

They said they have a small and mostly elderly congregation and have struggled to keep up with the physical and financial demands.

For many years, they’ve relied on fundraising to fill the gap between what the congregation offers in donations and the actual cost to operate the church.

“Then COVID-19 came along. COVID-19 restrictions have been extremely difficult for everyone. For the church, the restrictions continue to prevent us from undertaking many of the fundraisers in a safe way that we normally would have enjoyed.”

On top of that, they say many of their members can’t offer to organize and carry out the long hours standing to put on a dinner, as an example.

“The meeting held last Sunday was to make us all aware of the challenges, to ask for help and pray for guidance. Many memories were shared and even some tears shed with the thought of what will happen to the church should we not be able to continue as before and have to close the building permanently.”

The letter is intended to encourage people to go to worship and contribute physically and financially.

“Spread the word to your friends and neighbours that Maple Lake UC is in trouble. Your presence is sorely missed on Sundays. We understand that some may not feel comfortable being in church at this time due to COVID-19. Also, we know that others now have trouble getting to church due to declining health. We understand and think of you frequently. Nevertheless, some tough decisions need to be made very soon.”

On Jan. 30, 2022, after the worship service, they are scheduled to have their annual meeting. It will include a discussion and a decision regarding the future.

The letter cited three options: continue on with much-needed additional support (examples: increased attendance at worship, increases in offering and fundraising); permanently close the building and amalgamate the congregation with another United Church congregation, such as Highland Hills United Church, or permanently close the building and disband the congregation encouraging members and adherents to attend the church of their choice.

“Sadly, the half dozen regular members that attend worship are very discouraged and fearful that we cannot continue. The expenses of the church continue despite COVID-19 restrictions and lower church attendance.”

Ward said, “One can only guess what would happen to Maple Lake United Church if the church members cannot continue to operate it as a church. During this Advent season of hope, we are hoping for a hopeful story.”