Last Sunday, I attended the closing service at a beautiful old church, founded before the turn of the 20th century. Their numbers had dwindled to the point that they could no longer maintain their ministry and their beautiful old building. The final service was a celebration, but also a time of grief for all who were there, especially current members, but also those who had returned to the church of their youth for this final service. A shiver went down my spine at the reading of the words of dissolution: “This building is vacated by the congregation, and the congregation is dissolved.” So final.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about the death of a family, a church family, and how hard that is for its members. My church family is my extended family. My older relatives are all gone now, so I am especially grateful for the aunts and uncles, cousins and brothers and sisters I have found in my church. They know me and care about me. When I have been in need in the past, they have been there, and they will be there again in the future when life knocks me flat, as it does to all of us at times.
I’ve also been thinking about the words I spoke to the members of my own church family on Ash Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent just weeks ago: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” A gritty reminder in our death-denying culture that death is a part of our reality. It is a part of life. Fortunately in the midst of this season of Easter, it is easier for me to remember that death does not have the last word. God does.
Somewhere in the midst of the pain of the death of this church, God is still working. Like a seedpod that has been opened and its contents scattered, the remaining members of the congregation will spread out to other churches and places where they will take root and continue to serve God. New life in new places will come from their efforts. Absent this death, that new life would not happen. That knowledge gives me hope, even if it does not take away the sadness.
Grace and Peace,