Monday, May 16, 2005

Sad Pentecost

I spent the afternoon of Pentecost at the dissolution service for congregation in my presbytery. Everyone was putting on their bravest possible face for the occassion. We read the lections for the day. We talked about how the Holy Spirit is always on the move, always creating the church anew so that, when one particular manifestation of the church passes from the scene, we can be sure that something new and wonderful is taking shape somewhere else. We talked about how this congregation is not dead--it lives on in the places all over the world where former members live faithful lives and tell the story of Jesus to their children and grandchildren. We gave thanks for nearly one hundred years of ministry. But mostly it just sucked.

The congregation in question is like thousands of small, struggling congregations in cities all over the place--including the one I serve. These folks were not unfaithful. They were not a bunch of ridiculous church ladies sipping tea and knitting doilies for the bazzar. These folks fought the good fight: they tutored neighborhood kids, they stood up to city hall when something threatened the well-being of their community, the experiemented with new forms of worship, they shared their sanctuary with an African-American congregation--they really tried. But in the end it wasn't enough. Financial difficulties, member burnout and some serious crises in the life of their Pastor were enough to tip the ship.

For presbytery it was like an ecclessial re-enactment of the Terry Shaivo case. When do you decide there's no hope? When do you pull the plug? When do you say that to hang on is just causing more suffering?

In a moment of dark humor, another small church pastor and I tucked our bulletins from the service into our coat pockets. "We may need to know how to put together a service like this." we mused ruefully.

What a wierd Pentecost.


LutheranChik said...

If it's any consolation, I have been a part of both a UCC and an ELCA congregation that were teetering on the brink of dissolution, but rose from the ashes. My current congregation imploded a few years before I arrived in town, and I guess on a given Sunday there might be 15 people in the pew. Now we have enough active members to make a building expansion a needed and viable project! So mainline congregations can and do rebound.

St. Casserole said...

I'm part of a commission to determine if a congregation's request to dissolve should be honored or if we should try to keep it open. If we close the church, we will never have an opp. in that area again. The congregation is tired. We are working and praying about what to do. Your posts on these struggling small churches is on the mark. Thanks.