The pews at Patterson Avenue Baptist Church on Sunday were filled with more people than had been there on a Sunday morning in some time.
There were so many people that there weren’t enough communion cups for everyone.
“We ran out of juice,” said Pastor William “Bill” Nieporte as he led the service, the empty communion trays stacked on a table at the front of the church.
In some ways, the shortage of communion juice cups and Nieporte’s words about running out of juice symbolized the church’s fate.
Sunday’s service was the last for Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, formed in 1989 from the merger of churches with longer legacies — Park View Baptist Church, dating to 1891, and Calvary Baptist Church, dating to 1877.
With dwindling membership as older members aged and passed away and no newcomers took their places, Patterson Avenue Baptist’s membership decided, after months of considering its options, that it was time to call it quits.
The congregation voted in June to donate its building at 4301 Patterson Ave. to Movement Church, a 7-year-old congregation that currently meets in rented space on Cutshaw Avenue in Richmond.
“Today, we have reached the end of the road. Some of us bristle at that thought. We do not like the bluntness or finality of it all, but for the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, bluntness and finality are the tone for the day,” said Nieporte, who has been pastor of the church for a decade.
“Today is the final worship gathering of our congregation. Next Sunday, those of us who have been Patterson Avenue Baptist will wake up at the regular hour, dress in our Sunday best, drive to worship not knowing where we are going.
“Even if we have preplanned a location in advance, everything will be new, everything will be different. Everything will be unique, and it will be a part of us on the inside that feels like something has died. And maybe we will hear those words, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” Nieporte said.
Members and former members on Sunday talked about what the church meant to them. Many said they were sad to see their church fold but glad to see that the building would remain a place of worship.
“This was my church,” said Rita Barker, who said she was a member for at least a decade before moving away.
“I’m happy because it’s going to be a church, and it’s going to be preaching the Lord’s word. And they are growing. … I believe God has a plan for this church.”
Member Alice Langford, 102, taught Sunday school for years. She was a member of Calvary Baptist Church when it merged with Park View Baptist to form Patterson Avenue Baptist. Langford’s daughter, Martha Proffitt, who lives in North Carolina, was with her mother at the final service.
“Our whole church came over and joined this church back in 1989,” Langford said.
“I feel sad about it, but I knew it was coming. It had to be because we didn’t have enough people to support the work here,” she added.
She was not sure where she would worship from now on.
“At my age, I don’t know how much longer I will be able to go anywhere. Somebody brings me every Sunday. I talked to him. I said, ‘Wherever you all decide to go, if it’s convenient for me to go with you, I will,’” Langford said.
After delivering the morning sermon, Nieporte symbolically handed a key to the church to Ken Sorrell, associate pastor of Movement Church. Movement Church’s lead pastor, Cliff Jordan, was away on a mission trip that had been planned some time ago, Nieporte said.
“It’s got the dust of our ancestors on it,” Nieporte said as he gave the key to Sorrell. “Take good care of it.”
Sorrell said he and the Movement Church congregation were humbled and grateful for the gift and also understood the pain and grief. Movement Church draws about 250 people to weekly services.
“Throughout these past many months, our church has been praying for you and your members,” Sorrell said.
“Today, as you come together for this last service, we hope that part of the day you celebrate the hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives that you have changed and have touched over the years. And those lives continue to touch others. You don’t know the ripple effect that this church has had. We also know this day has many other emotions,” Sorrell said.
“Our prayer is that you may be encouraged at some point, knowing that this place continues to be a place where the Gospel is presented,” he said.