Over the past several years, three United Methodist churches in Southold Town have consolidated to form a single congregation, leaving just one independent active Methodist church in Orient.
On Monday, that congregation may decide to join its brethren to the west.
Parishioners of the Orient church — which has 40 to 50 official members, between 12 and 24 of whom attend services each Sunday — are slated to vote Monday on whether to merge with North Fork United Methodist Church in Cutchogue. Members would have to appear in person to participate.
The outcome of that vote is unclear.
Geoff Proud, chair of the trustee and development committee at the Village Lane church, wrote in an advertisement featured in this week’s Suffolk Times that “more time is needed in order gauge the sentiments of the residents of the hamlet.”
Fears exist for the future of the property. The church building was constructed in the 1830s at the intersection of Village Lane and Orchard Street, in the middle of the quaint hamlet. The historic property also includes an adjacent parsonage.
On Shelter Island, the advertisement continues, a closed Methodist church is now used for retreats both religious and secular. Mr. Proud said a local committee could consider doing something similar in Orient.
A two-thirds majority would be needed for the Orient congregation to merge with the consolidated church, which was created in 2014 when congregations from Southold and Cutchogue merged. The closure of the Methodist church in Greenport followed, and assets from all three churches are either for sale or have been sold. The Southold church building fetched $1 million and will be turned into an opera house; the other two remain on the market. The combined congregation hopes to use sales proceeds to build a new church on Route 48 and Hortons Lane in Southold. Selling the Orient church would not be required for those plans to move forward, said the Rev Tom McLeod, pastor at NFUMC.
While emotions may be running high about the possibility that weekly services at the Orient church may be suspended, the Rev. McLeod — who is technically also the recognized minister in Orient — said the decision has been years in the making.
“We’ve been given this notice over a period of years recognizing that the serving of the greater good is the hope for us all,” he said, adding that future uses for the Orient facility could include a summer or community chapel.
The Rev. McLeod called the recent mergers, which have resulted in one congregation with about 60 parishioners, “energizing.”
However, he also said he recognizes there can be a grieving process when deciding whether to close a church.
If members of the Orient church approve a merger, its assets would transfer to NFUMC. But if they vote against it, those assets would be transferred to the New York Conference of the United Methodist Church in White Plains, which oversees the region’s United Methodist churches. What would happen at that point remains unclear.
The Rev. Adrienne Brewington, superintendent for the New York Conference chapter that oversees the Orient congregation, was unavailable for comment.
Photo: Orient United Methodist Church could soon become part of a congregation that was formed from Southold Town’s three other Methodist churches. (Credit: Grant Parpan)