Disband or downsize?

Ohio congregation decides to continue, sells its building and moves to rented space

Summit Mennonite Church worships in its new rented space after selling its former building to Barberton Area Community Ministries. — Summit Mennonite Church Summit Mennonite Church worships in its new rented space after selling its former building to Barberton Area Community Ministries. — Summit Mennonite Church

Many people come to a place in life where it’s time to let go of stuff and live more simply.

This has been the experience of Summit Mennonite Church, born in 1965 when 15 people formed Summit Christian Fellowship. The congregation eventually built a home in Barberton, Ohio, on the outskirts of Akron. At the new location, members changed the name to Summit Mennonite Church. They ministered to the local community and those who came to study or work in nearby urban areas.

The congregation welcomed diversity and cared for all who came. Early on, it was known for acceptance of female leaders.

Summit opened its building to community groups who needed a meeting place. In 2012, Barberton Area Community Ministries moved its offices to the building and began to provide food for local families in need. BACM was run by volunteers from many area churches. Unused Sunday school rooms were given to the growing ministry for offices and storage.

During the pandemic, Summit adjusted to worship by Zoom, the resignation of a pastor and the loss of several retired couples who moved away. While BACM grew, Summit was shrinking.

Guided in part by interim pastors Patrick and Christine Nafziger, in 2021 the congregation hired a facilitator who took it through a discernment process. Members assessed expenses, the need for facility upgrades, how to accommodate BACM’s growing programs and what to do about future leadership.

BACM offered to buy the building and continue the community garden Summit had started.

Although the active membership had shrunk to a couple of dozen people, the discernment process confirmed a commitment to remain together rather than disband. As one person wrote on a sticky note on the facilitator’s chart: “We like each other.”

By separating the issue of selling the building from congregational viability, the group could envision itself as free to move out and move on. They offered unneeded belongings to people who would appreciate them. Some things were sold and others kept: banners, a wooden cross, a peace lamp, a podium, hymnbooks and a storage cabinet.

Summit is blessed with a new meeting space in the fellowship room of Grace United Church of Christ of Loyal Oak in Norton, two miles from its former location.

Summit Mennonite gathers in its rented space in front of its signature banners and wooden cross each Sunday morning. After worship, the Mennonites join the UCC congregation for coffee and snacks.

Rather than hire a pastor, Summit relies on lay leadership and supply pastors. Commissions, committees and the church council have been disbanded in favor of a simpler structure. The group has a monthly potluck. Worship takes various forms, including sermons, discussions, teaching and hymn sings.

Summit Mennonite continues to nurture Christian faith and offer fellowship to all who come to its welcoming circle.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!