By Joyce Gannon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Sidra deRose grew up right across the street from the First Presbyterian Church on Mitchell Avenue in Clairton. Pa., where her family worshiped. So when her mother, a choir member and mission leader, had church meetings to attend, she tagged along rather than stay with a babysitter.
Even after the family moved to Elizabeth Borough when Ms. deRose was 11, they continued to attend First Presbyterian. Ms. deRose, 49, who now resides with her husband and daughters in South Park, still travels to the church for services, sings in the choir and sits on its session, or governing board.
After Christmas however, Ms. deRose, her mother and other members of the congregation that has dwindled to about 50 members in recent years will be looking for other churches to join.
First Presbyterian is closing after more than 100 years — a casualty of Clairton’s aging and declining population and the economic struggles the Mon Valley community has weathered since U.S. Steel downsized its operations and other businesses began leaving in the late 1970s. The city entered the state’s Act 47 program for financially struggling communities in 1988, and just emerged from the status last month.
When the mills along the Monongahela River were booming in the 1950s, the church reported more than 1,200 members and had two services every Sunday.
In the 1970s, as families fled the town to seek jobs elsewhere, church membership shrunk to about half that number.
In recent years, only about 15 people typically attend the 11 a.m. Sunday service because many elderly members are homebound or have moved in with relatives who don’t live nearby, said Ardis Mills, Ms. deRose’s mother.