Worshippers will shuffle out of the pews of a 162-year-old Eden Methodist church for the last time next week as it closes its doors for good.

A weekend of farewell services will mark the passing of The Gaisgill Methodist Church, near Tebay, following a decision by the eight-strong congregation to finally shut the church.

“We decided it wasn’t worth carrying on,” explained life-long member Marian Winder, 65. “The congregation has got less, they are all getting older and there were no younger people coming through to take over.” Today’s shrinking membership stands in contrast to the church’s busier days in the 1960s when the children of labourers billeted to build the nearby M6 motorway boosted its Sunday School.

But the Sunday School is now long gone, as are the congregation-swelling road workers.

“It’s rather sad,” said Gaisgill’s Methodist minister Phil Dew, who also preaches across the Eden area. “The decision to close was not taken lightly. A church is much more than a place of worship – it’s a place where all the significant events happen in people’s lives – where they are christened, baptised and married.

“The trouble these days is religion has gone out of fashion. Although people often have an attachment to a church they don’t come. A church doesn’t make sense any more if people don’t go there.

“As a minister I’m concerned people undervalue the importance of such places until they are no longer there. It’s like bus services - they have all gone because people don’t use them. We will end up with nothing in the countryside because people don’t use the facilities.” The trend of emptying pews is reflected across the country. Nationally, The Methodist Church is an ageing church and there are more members dying than there are new people coming into the fold.

According to their most recent statistics, Methodist membership in Britain has dropped by 123,000 since 1986 to leave some 327,000 members in 2001. Cumbria has reflected that trend of emptying pews with 5,141 Methodists in 2001 compared to 7,412 in 1986. Consequently the number of churches has also seen a steady decline from 7,389 in 1986 to 6,378 fifteen years later – of which 153 are in Cumbria.

The Methodist Church’s property office has applied for planning permission to convert Gaisgill Church into a house; once permission has been secured it plans to sell off the 19th century stone-built church.

l On Saturday, July 19, at 7.30pm, there will be a farewell concert and act of worship at Gaisgill led by the Sandylands Mens Forum of the Sandylands Methodist Church, Kendal. The final service will be held on Sunday at 2pm with former Gaisgill member Kendal lay preacher John Ward alongside others members followed by refreshments.