MILWAUKEE — After more than 70 years Christ Memorial Lutheran Church is closing its doors for good. One last service was held to celebrate Easter Sunday and to also give the congregation an opportunity to say their final goodbyes.
"I'm going to miss these people they're like my family," said church member Keith Harris.
On a day known to celebrate life and new beginnings, Reverand James Kroemer felt Easter was the best time to have one final sermon at Christ Memorial Lutheran Church with the congregation he's grown to love over the past 27 years.
"It was purposefully set for this day so it wouldn't be just a sad day but a joyful day too."
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The closing didn't necessarily come as a surprise to Pastor Kroener who says membership at the church had gradually been declining since the late 1960s. Between that and the financial hit the church took once the coronavirus pandemic began, led to the harsh reality that it wouldn't make it much longer.
"As we looked at things, we saw we couldn't sustain it. I didn't think we'd be able to stay open this long. With or without the pandemic we would've come to this day anyway," said Kroemer.
According to the Wisconsin Council of Churches, since the start of the pandemic, between 1% and 3% of churches in the state have stopped their ministries and closed down altogether. The council oversees nearly 2,000 churches across Wisconsin, which means approximately 60 churches have closed.
"I'll miss the people, and miss the opportunity to preach and teach God's word," said Kroemer.
For many members, Christ Memorial has been their church home for more than 30, 40, even 50 years.
"I thank God for just sending me here. I haven't regretted it all. It's been a blessing," said Betty Brown.
"My kids grew up here. They were both married here," said Harris.
"We love it here. We've got one of the greatest pastors you can find," said Harold Bublitz.
Pastor Kroemer says there is a buyer for the building and hopes another church will occupy it. As for him, he says he'll continue teaching part-time at Concordia University, and is looking forward to retiring soon to spend time with his family.
Christ Memorial Lutheran Church was located at 3105 W. Thurston Ave.