Monday, July 04, 2005

hymns and a quart of milk

Porcelli's grocery is closed. Doors locked. No word if it will re-open as a store or be knocked down for more condos. Why is this significant? Porcelli's grocery and my little church have stood kitty corner across from each other at the intersection of Virginia and Nebraska for at least seventy years, probably more.

The church has always been Presbyterian. The store has passed through several hands-- the original owners whose names no one remembers, the Italian Porcellis who gave it it's current name, the Koreans who owned it when we moved to the neighborhood, and the semi-retired dentist who bought it for his wife to run as a sideline. It was a real live corner grocer for years carrying a little of everything one could need. When I moved here it was more of a convenience store--not good for much but ice cream and tampons, as one neighbor remarked near the end of that particular incarnation. The dentist tried to reinvent it as a deli/wine bar. But in the end it appears that no amount of reinventing could fight the inexorable tide of Mega-marts, Trader Joes, and upscale specialty grocers spreading like english ivy across the Portland landscape. Everyone waxes nostalgic about the corner grocer, but no one, it seems, actually shops there.

Sort of like the little neighborhood church. It's picturesque in a shabby, Grandma Moses kind of way. But, like the corner grocer, it's an institution time seems to have passed by. The folks at my church seem oddly comforted by Porcelli's demise. Some burden of guilt seems to have at least partially lifted. Like Porcelli's they tried over the years to reinvent themselves. Like Porcellis it wasn't enough in the end. It wouldn't have mattered if our craft had been more seaworthy. The tsunami would have swept us away anyway.


Songbird said...

Thanks for that beautifully written picture of your corner.
My little UCC church is in much the position you describe. The neighborhood receded; people who used to pour out of apartment buildings and modest houses to congregate there now live a drive away, and the faithful elders who continued to do so are dying off or aging out of coming at all. In my almost three years there we have added a goodly number of new younger members, but there never was enough money to pay for a fulltime pastor, or rather there hasn't been since the health insurance got so expensive. We're meeting next Sunday to talk about the future. It's not as dire as what you describe, in the sense that there are some modest additional resources that can keep paying me above what we take in, but those are very modest, and there is a leak in the bell tower and you can imagine the rest (including the accessibility issues you describe).
I'm sorry to make such a long comment; just wanted to let you know a sister is out here feeling the same way--facing sad inevitabilities all the while knowing that the intimacy of good small church life is precious beyond words.

PPB said...

So sad.
I wish there was a way to encourage larger congregations to support these smaller ones.

St. Casserole said...

I feel like crying. You write so very well of a situation I understand.

the reverend mommy said...

All I can say is "me too." I belonged as a child where every year we would have to discuss closing the doors -- It is an anxious way to life. I've come to realize that there is a life cycle to churchs -- birth, youth, maturity, waning years -- it's just hard to live into it.

Prayers and a ((hug)).

LutheranChik said...

In another corner of the Internet, not too long ago, we were discussing the pros and cons of house churches vs. traditional churches. My Orthodox friend noted that house churches were only around until the Christian community gained the resources and social security that enabled it to build and maintain separate places for worship.

Speaking of cycles, I wonder if we are entering into a cycle of our existence where, for a time, we are being called back into these smaller, more intimate ways of "doing church."