Highland Heights UM Church closing after Sunday’s service

<strong>R.J. Haynes passes by the Highland Heights United Methodist Church on Summer Ave. which will hold its final service on Sunday, June 16, after worshipping at the same corner for 106 years.</strong> (Jim Weber/Daily Memphian)

Story by Tom Bailey  |   Daily Memphian 

Highland Heights United Methodist Church holds its final service on Sunday, June 16, after worshipping at the same corner for 106 years.

“Very difficult,” Rev. Rich Cook said of the emotional impact on the membership.

Average attendance is down to about 30, and 154 people remain on the membership roll.

“We have people who have spent their whole lives here. … People have been born, baptized, married, had their children baptized and marry and have had funerals for family members,” Cook said in written responses to questions from The Daily Memphian.

The Gothic revival complex of red brick and stone is the latest of the Highland Heights church buildings that have anchored the northwest corner of Summer and Highland for more than a century.

Arched windows and doors distinguish the architecture that encompasses a sanctuary building and massive bell tower built in 1951, education building built in 1958, connecting breezeway and offices.

The congregation voted May 19 to close after years of struggling with a declining, aging membership and considerable building repairs.

The structure had been sized to accommodate many more members. Cook found a 1950s journal showing the church counted 1,850 members and drew an average attendance of 650.

Property’s future?

Cook doesn’t know what will become of the church property. That decision is up to the United Methodist Memphis Conference trustees.

Conference treasurer and director of administrative services, Larry Davis, said he was busy with meetings this week but could discuss the property next week.

The other three corners of the Summer/Highland intersection are being used commercially by two gas stations and a Walgreens.

Highland Heights is the second church on Summer to close this month. Grimes Memorial United Methodist Church, two miles east of Highland Heights, held its last service on June 2.

The Grimes property has been sold to a commercial developer.

No one has offered to buy the Highland Heights buildings, Cook said.

The commercial district along this stretch of Summer appears worn down, with lots of thrift and discount stores nearby. But the average daily traffic count a block away in 2017 was 21,206 vehicles, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

One architect’s view

If the property were to be sold for redevelopment, Keith Kays said he would hope the new owner would preserve at least part of the appealing Gothic revival architecture.

Kays is a former member of the Landmarks Commission and the same architect who a decade ago helped break an impasse between Chick-fil-A and Memphis preservationists over the chain’s plans to demolish a pretty, stone church administration building at 1980 Union.

Chick-fil-A embraced Kays’ suggestion to preserve only the church building’s front wall. That wall has continued to shield patio diners from Union Avenue traffic.

“As somebody who’s interested in history and where people have been and what has happened, having vestiges of what’s been built and what used to be here seems somehow important as time goes on,” Kays said. “Because so much stuff has been torn down because of expediency.”

 

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