By Stephen J. Kotz
Six years ago, the congregation of the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church moved into a brand new church building on Carroll Street with high hopes of revitalizing its membership and expanding its mission.
But early in December, congregants received a letter from the Reverend Julia Yeon-Hee Yim, the superintendent of the Long Island East District of the New York Annual Conference, the church’s governing body, announcing that services would be suspended until further notice.
The letter urged congregants to attend services and seek spiritual nurturing at one of the two other active Methodist churches on the South Fork — the Hamptons United Methodist Church in Southampton or the First United Methodist Church of East Hampton — until further notice.
“We have temporarily decided to pause our work there so we can do more attentive ministry after we regroup,” Reverend Yim said on Wednesday. “We want to be very clear. We are still interested and still committed to offering ministry to the Sag Harbor area, but as to how it will be done, we must first reassess and look at our resources.”
One congregant, Genevieve Willock of East Hampton, the chairwoman of the congregation’s board of trustees, said she was afraid the church would be closed permanently.
“I believe deep in my heart the church is closed, even though they haven’t said those words yet,” Ms. Willock said on Tuesday. “Nothing to do with the Methodist church is going on at that building now.”
In the meantime, the church continues to rent out space to Our Sons and Daughters School, an early childhood program based on the Waldorf movement in education.
Ms. Willock, who joined the church in 1993 when it still occupied its old home on Madison Street, said the membership was small then, with perhaps 15 people in the pews on a given Sunday. Facing rising heating and maintenance costs, the congregation under the direction of former pastor, Tom McLeod, sold the building for $2.4 million in 2006 and used part of the proceeds to build its new church.
After Mr. McLeod left in 2014 to move to a new congregation in Cutchogue, the church, which had seen attendance grow to 60 or more each week under his leadership, began to wither away, Ms. Willock said.
Mr. McLeod was replaced first by the Reverend Rose Livingston, who lives in Staten Island, and tried to lead the congregation on a part-time basis. After she left in 2015, the Reverend Leslie Duroseau, who is also the pastor of the Southampton congregation, took over.
Former member Bruce Stafford, who once served as chairman of the board of trustees, said Reverend Duroseau could not reverse the slide.
Mr. Stafford said he left the congregation after years of volunteering because he believed it had lost its focus. “The word of Jesus was not being proclaimed,” he said. Despite numerous meetings organized by the district office, the congregation could not reach a consensus on how to continue
As a result, membership began to dwindle. “You can’t survive with seven members,” he said. “You need a pastor from the community.”
Ms. Willock said it got so bad in recent months that sometimes only one or two members would show up for weekly services.
Reverend Duroseau declined to comment for this story, other than to deny the church was being closed permanently. “Everything that has been taking place is still taking place,” she said, adding that further statements would have to come from district officials.
“I’m numb to it now,” said Ms. Willock. “It bothers me a bit because we had come so far from that cold building on Madison Street.”