The Unseen Victims: Pandemic Claims Historic Des Moines Church

Written By BlabberBuzz | Tuesday, 26 April 2022 20:30
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After declining for years, the First Presbyterian Church of Des Moines in Iowa, which had been in operation since 1848, will assemble for its final collective hallelujah on Sunday, unable to recover after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were declining and the pandemic killed us,” Kathy Smith, who has been a member of the church since 1984, briefed the Des Moines Register.

Already, the nearly 170-year-old church is offering things for sale such as “hymnals, Bibles, communion sets, sanctuary furniture, choir music, tables, chairs, dishes, kitchen supplies” that will be public at the end of Sunday’s service, according to a statement published by the church. Some items will be available for pick up earlier. The church property is also anticipated to be sold to another church, business, or commercial developer according to KCCI.

“It's really, really hard. As you can see, this is a beautiful place,” the church’s pastor, the Rev. Doug Basler, described to KCCI. He explained that the church only has 40 members. And the last service they had during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, only 15 people showed up.

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“It was just hard for us to rebound and gain any momentum after the COVID year,” Basler told KCCI. The Christian Post contacted the church on Friday for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

The First Presbyterian Church, according to the Des Moines Register, was established by John Stewart Dean in a log building next to the Des Moines River, where the Simon Estes Amphitheater now sits. When the congregation got too immense for that space the church retained services in the Supreme Court Room in Iowa's "Brick State House" which served as Iowa's Capitol Building from 1856 to 1882. In the early 1900s, it moved to an establishment at East 12th and Maple in the city.

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Mary Lou Aspengren, 94, who is considered to be the church’s longest-serving member, told KCCI she attended her first Sunday school session at the church in 1938 at the East 12th and Maple location. In 1950, according to the Des Moines Register, a fire wrecked the interior of the church and it was rebuilt. The building of a freeway eventually forced the church to move to 31000 Easton Blvd., where they have been since July 1962.

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Pastor Basler only joined the First Presbyterian Church of Des Moines a year ago. He had moved from Washington state to take care of his elderly father and had high hopes that the church would flourish again as it did in the past.

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"This is where people on any given Sunday might meet God in a very particular way," he briefed the Des Moines Register.

"The hope was once we started gathering together again we'd reconnect with some of the people who scattered during the COVID year," Basler said additionally. "We just found that didn't happen." A Gallup poll released earlier this year indicated that just under half of American respondents (49%) have formal church membership, marking an 80-year low. In 1937, 70% of Americans had a formal church membership.

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Data from the National Public Opinion Reference Survey performed by the Pew Research Center from May 29 to Aug. 25, 2021, uncovered that fewer than half (45%) of adults in the United States say they pray daily, a decrease of 13 percentage points from 2007. In 2014, 55% displayed they prayed daily.

Even though self-identified Christians are still the enormous religious demographic in the U.S., they make up a collective 63% of the adult population. When the Pew Research Center started measuring religious identity in 2007, self-identified Christians outnumbered “nones” 78% to 16%.

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