By Martin E. Comas, The Orlando Sentinel.
Pastor Hugh Lackey is in the bell tower of First Presbyterian Church of Sanford as a colorful light from the stained-glass windows spills into the room.
He grabs a metal chain dropping down from the ceiling and pulls hard, bending his knees.
With each pull, the large church bell resonates throughout downtown Sanford.
“There won’t be many more times when I’ll be doing this,” Lackey said. “And we’ll be ringing it loudly on our last day.”
After 133 years, First Presbyterian Church of Sanford will shut its doors forever, and the congregation, one of the oldest in Central Florida, will dissolve after the last morning service Aug. 30.
The two-story red-brick building, which has stood at the corner of Third Street and Oak Avenue in Sanford’s historic district since 1916, will be put up for sale.
“It’s been a long journey,” Lackey said. “But the reality is that maintaining this building has become too much of an expense. It’s old, and we’re having to put too much money into the building but not into the ministry. And that’s not what it’s all about.”
At its peak, just more than four decades ago, First Presbyterian of Sanford had more than 1,000 members.
Hundreds of worshippers — elderly citizens and young families with small children — sat side by side in row after row of the church’s hard-oak pews on Sunday mornings. Worshippers would slide over to make room for anyone coming in late.
The top balcony had an additional 127 wooden seats, each with a wire rack underneath so gentlemen could rest their hats.
But in recent decades, the number of parishioners dropped quickly.