Sunday, August 01, 2004

My church is dying.

It's dying literally, evidenced by yesterday's memorial service for Kay Alwine, our former music director and wife of our pastor emeritus, Paul, and by the numerous funerals and memorial services for members that have taken place over the last year or two. The members are old, and tired, sick and dying.

But it's dying in a much sadder way, too. This reduction in number somehow leads to reduction in spirit and in hope. The "vision committee" is at a loss for ways to turn it around, I think. When I went to share with them my experiences at NYAC, they asked if I felt that the church would be a failure if it closed its doors.

A failure? No, definitely not. Self-absorbed as I am, I answered that I didn't see how it could be a failure when it has shaped me to be the person I am, has made such an impression on me. And hundreds, thousands of others too. Baxter and Anna Mow, heroes in the Church of the Brethren, were from my church. How many people have been called out to leadership, ordained, comforted, supported, befriended, and challenged within the bonds of the fellowship that has been First Church of the Brethren over the years? Countless.

As I sat in the balcony yesterday at Kay's memorial service, the sanctuary fuller than I have ever experienced in my 22 years there, I realized the power of that community, and the immense privilege it has been for me to be a part of it. These people may not all be here on Sunday mornings, I thought, but they have been touched by our community. Even if their only connection to the church was a knowledge of it from Kay, they are bound to us in that way, through her.

Today was the last sermon I'll hear from David for a while. Mom is preaching next Sunday, then I'm preaching the 15th, so they'll get an earful from the Cassells. The sermon was about being called home, about the steadfastness of parents, even when the ground rules have to change for one reason or another. David talked about God's tendency to change his parenting tactics. Even when the relationship changes, though, the steadfastness remains. God remains, wherever we find ourselves, and that fact makes wherever we are home. My relationships are changing. With my family, with my church, with God. They're all opening up, it seems, being pushed to another level. But beyond the different ground rules, the different buildings, the different people, the different conception of who God is, the center remains the same.

Even if First Church of the Brethren finds its doors closing, aren't some things stronger than money and cinder block? After all, doesn't the resurrection itself offer us a means to maintain relationship, even on the other side of death?

My church is dying, but maybe sometimes death offers us a greater, broader hope.

No comments: