BARSTOW - A landmark church in this desert town is closing its doors after more than a century of ministry.
"It's hard letting go of the building, but the church isn't the building," said Jeri Lyn Randolph, chairwoman of the council at the 111-year-old First Congregational United Church of Christ.
The 20-member congregation will hold a celebration service on Jan. 5 to mark the end of a historic run in Barstow.
It was the first organized church in town.
Randolph's family joined the church in the early 1940s when they moved from Wichita, Kan.
She has fond memories of the church as a child, including tea times with her sisters and mother, and the congregation's widows.
"My mother had four girls and she'd farm us out to some of the widows who didn't have kids," Randolph said.
The tri-level church building saw packed services in the 1950s. More than 200 worshippers attended services on Sundays.
Randolph spends part of her days sifting through church mementos. They include a $1.50 bill from the Southern Sierra Power Co. in 1925.
Items such as those will be donated to the Claremont Graduate University Library's special collection of Congregational Church papers, which include early records from the denomination's Southern California organizations.
The Barstow church's pale yellow walls and fading stained glass cradle pews that are more than 50 years old.
A minister in the 1950s hand-carved a wooden baptismal stationed at the front of the sanctuary.
The church last saw a major remodel in the 1950s and doesn't have central air and heating.
In 1974, it added an education building called Pilgrim House - in honor of the pilgrims, many of whom were Congregationalists.
A Narcotics Anonymous group meets there.
Randolph said the church building at 220 N. Second Ave. is in the midst of a sale to a Riverside-based Latino ministry.
The 23,000-square-foot building will go for roughly $300,000.
Randolph said the congregation is like many in mainline denominations that have seen sharp declines in the last few decades.
"I think it's tied to Barstow and the decline of Barstow, the crime and poverty," she said.
Her church building simply needs a bigger congregation, she said.
Meantime, the progressive-liberal church will morph into a Barstow-based mission seeking to help the poor and minister to those not typically received in Christian fellowships, Randolph said.
Her sister, Rev. Sheri Lea Randolph, said the church is "open and affirming, where we accept all people no matter their sexual orientation, the only church in town that's progressive."
Indeed, several years ago the church hosted a same-sex union ceremony.
Sheri Lea Randolph, who runs a nonprofit emergency services organization called Desert Manna, said progressive ministry is something she, her sister and others from the church will carry with them as they start the new mission, which they plan to call DesertRising.
The congregation's remnant will meet over the next few months "and decide what God wants us to do in the 21st Century," said Jeri Lyn Randolph.
He will, if a painted phrase on the back of the church is any indication. It reads:
"God is still speaking."