MILFORD – Marcia Cheatham was 14 when she started playing the organ for Milford Presbyterian Church. Now 75, she remembers countless times she performed for baptisms, funerals and weddings inside the majestic building, which was completed in 1921.
Due to age and small membership, the congregation agreed to hold its last service on Easter Sunday this year. Rather than playing behind the choir section of the sanctuary, as she had done for more than six decades, Cheatham joined the other members of the congregation and a guest organist played for the final service.
“It was good, but it was very emotional at the end,” Cheatham said, gazing up at the organ pipes that stretch to the ceiling of the sanctuary. “I guess if I had worked up there I would have held up a little better.”
Julie Adkins has been pastoring the church for about three and a half years. In recent years, the congregation has held services on the first and third Sundays of the month. She said she fell in love with the congregation while leading services there.
She said the job of managing and keeping the century-old building in good repair was too much for the small congregation. About three people, including Cheatham, are active members of the church, and a few others have regularly joined Sunday services, Adkins said. Active members of the congregation are in their 70s and 80s, she said.
About a year ago, the church needed major repairs, and the congregation wondered if it was time for them to sell the building and find another meeting place, Adkins said. But the members of the congregation were not ready to do so.
“It became clear that the building was too much, and after thinking about it for a year, we decided we were ready,” Adkins said.
The church is located on US Highway 77, which serves as the main drag in Milford, approximately 20 miles south of Waxahachie in Ellis County. The city’s 2020 population was 934, according to five-year U.S. Census estimates. The Milford Presbyterian Church congregation was formed in June 1855 with 16 members, according to the Texas Historical Commission website.
Across the street from the church is a building that once served as a dormitory for the Texas Presbyterian College for Girls, said James Ellor, a representative from Grace Presbytery, which governs more than 130 congregations in the north, northeast and central of Texas, according to its website.
The curved wooden pews inside the sanctuary creaked as around 60 people – many of them family members of the three congregants – took their places for the final worship service. A toddler has been scolded by his father for kicking the ground towards the back of the shrine as a baby cooed in his mother’s arms.
Adkins invited people to pick up a hymnal as a memento of the last service.
During his sermon, Adkins preached about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Bible story of his resurrection. She urged members of the congregation to stay strong in their faith.
“It is not a sign of lack of faith to mourn the loss of the congregation that has meant so much for so long,” Adkins said.
After the service, Ellor reminded the congregation that “the heart of the church is its people.” Ellor said he helped facilitate the presbytery’s process of disbanding the congregation. He said the presbytery will now consider options for the church building and the objects inside.
Maurine Powell, 86, said she had attended Milford Presbyterian Church since she was six weeks old. She attended the final service on Sunday with her daughter, Linnie Evans, who was baptized and married in the church.
The sermon was wonderful, Powell said, adding that she was happy to see so many people inside the sanctuary – something she hadn’t seen in a long time.
“It makes you happy, but it’s also sad to know that we’re not going to be here anymore,” Powell said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t worship God.”
As people walked out of the sanctuary, Cheatham recalled times when she practiced alone in the sanctuary in preparation for Sunday service.
“I hope another church will take it, buy it and keep things the way they are now,” Cheatham said.
After most of the people who attended the service had left the sanctuary, Cheatham sat down on the pipe organ bench.
Several members of her family, including her grandchildren, watched her perform her favorite song to play on the organ: “Amazing Grace.”