PORTAGE — For the last time, members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church raised their voices in praise.
For the last time, candles on the altar were snuffed at the end of the service.
And, for the last time, the people who worshiped inside the small white and stone building on U.S. 6, were a congregation Sunday night.
The church, founded in 1961, closed its doors following a decommissioning and deconsecration service.
Like many small churches, it had struggled over the decades, looking to close its doors a decade ago, but having a bit of a resurrection. This time, however, when its pastor left in January, they knew it was the end.
"A church is not the building. The church is the people. This is not a loss, this is a change," said the Rev. Richard Boshoven, pastor of Trinity Memorial in Merrillville and visiting minister.
He compared the closing of the church to a decommissioning of a ship.
"The ship is not important. What is important is the record of service," he said. "Your record of service is a legacy."
While small, with no more than 25 to 40 people attending services each Sunday, Boshoven said the church took its worship of God out to the community, providing community meals, sponsoring the Empty Bowls Project, sponsoring Comfort Dogs and other activities.
That's what brought Nancy Webber back to the church. She was there early on, but left for awhile and came back about 20 years ago.
"I stayed because of the things they were doing. All the community things and the outreach programs," she said, pointing to raising funds for the local food pantry and members providing mentoring to local elementary school children.
For the Anderson family, four generations attended services, Bible school and ceremonies inside the church.
Ransom "Ranni" Anderson built the altar. His funeral service was also held there, said his son Carl.
"The grandkids always referred to it as Grandma Millie's church," said Judy Anderson about her mother-in-law.
"It is very sad. The building could stay, but its not been the same since the pastor left," said Judy Anderson. "The church isn't in the building, but in the hearts of the people."
The building is up for sale and members will be attending other churches in the area. Items inside will be donated to other churches in need.