In Closing, St. James, Griggsville Blesses Its Community

Remaining members allocate congregation's assets to community organizations

After almost 140 years of faithful ministry in Griggsville, St. James Episcopal Church held a bittersweet final service on October 23. The decision to close, made in the midst of the pandemic by the parish’s few remaining members, was motivated in part by the understanding that the congregation’s resources could be better spent addressing significant community needs.

St. James had been blessed by the financial generosity of past and present members, said parish leaders, but had nevertheless suffered from long-term population decline in rural Illinois.

“Even though there were only a few of us,” Lucy Daniels, one of the parish’s longtime members, said. “We were a very close-knit community.”

When the Rev. Bill Roeger, the congregation’s beloved part-time priest who had led the parish through the Diocese of Quincy’s 2008 split and 2013 reunification with the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, announced that he would be unable to return to St. James’s after the pandemic, the handful of remaining parishioners determined that the parish would close.

At the same time, the pandemic was straining the capacity of community organizations that address the needs of people in rural Griggsville and Pike County. Some agencies were struggling to provide even basic services.

“The money that we had was from generous former members,” said Lori Stauffer, a lifelong member of St. James. “They were people who lived in this town and had gone to St. James. And we felt like if St. James could not use their money anymore, the people who have passed would want it to stay in this community and help other places that could really, really use it.”

What came next was guided by a combination of faithful Christian witness and hometown pride. Parish leaders Lucy Daniels, Bruce Giffin, and Stauffer led the small congregation in a process of prayer, meetings with potential recipient organizations, and discussion about ways to allocate the congregation’s remaining resources in a responsible way that was consistent with the teaching of the Episcopal Church.

“We did not just say, ‘you get this, you get this, you get this.’ We tried to do this in a careful way and in a thoughtful way,” Giffin, who served as senior warden, said.

In the end, most of the congregation’s donations supported the Griggsville-Perry school system and feeding programs in Griggsville and Pike County.

“That is part of being from a small town, people always band together and help each other out,” said Stauffer. “It might be cliche, but … you just have each other’s back. And look at what we were able to do—help out our fellow Christians and friends. The blow was softened by knowing that we were doing good things with our money.”

The former leaders of St. James, Griggsville counsel other congregations in their situation to take their time making decisions. “We did not rush it,” said Giffin. “There was discussion and consideration, and we revisited the fundamental issues time and again.”

“Griggsville is home,” said Stauffer, “I’m a lifer and the community is what makes this so dear. It was a humbling and grounding experience to use this money to help people directly in our community. And that makes you feel good, that out of something sad we made a lot of people happy.”

photo: (l-r) Leith Miller, Lilian Bricker, Lori Stauffer, Evan Roeger, Bruce Giffin, the Rev. Bill Roeger, Lucy Daniels and Kay Giffin attended the final service at St. James, Griggsville, on October 23, 2021.