Sunday, June 07, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Hubby and I got up, got dressed, and drove to our church this morning. We sat in the back, the folks farthest from the pulpit. Under 20 adults graced the pews. The "new" minister, probably on vacation, wasn't there. None of the "old folks" were there either, except for Hubby and me. We were the oldest ones in attendance.

With the advent of the new minister last year, the older members of the congregation have been relegated to the role of observer. The hymns are now often praise songs, sung at break neck pace, often without any music to follow. The lovely traditional Methodist hymns are mostly gone. The music ministry is often a solo sung to a taped recording. The organ is closed and shuttered. The choir loft is vacant.

The traditional altar decorations have been replaced with two odd wind sockets. I'm not sure what they represent, but they've been in place since Easter. Once a lovely wooden cross, Christ-size, would hang over the altar from Easter to Pentecost. Obviously, that tradition has been replaced.

The sanctuary is still beautiful, but with a sad decay emanating from it. The furnace has not been repaired from when it broke two years ago, so there is no air conditioning and even worse, no heat. During the winter we sit in a moldy, dank basement -- the Parish Hall. The hall is fine for pot-luck suppers but it is a basement -- and Christmas services there are sad-looking and feeling events. The temperature in the sanctuary on a warm winter day never gets above 50 degrees. Even on Easter Sunday this year, when we finally moved upstairs, the church was bone-chilling.

When we joined the church it was dying. Only ten to twelve adults attended on Sunday morning. Then we had a small resurgence (see the picture above -- around 2005), got a new minister who got us another new minister -- both retired gentlemen. We limped along for ten years and more, but when the last retired minister finally officially retired, we knew the time had come to either give up, or bite the bullet.

We bit, hired a full-time minister, and moved into this new world, where the traditional Methodists are phased out of the church and the old folks are sent to the back pews. The Methodist regulatory body did not let us interview pastors -- they assigned us one. Whether she was actually a good fit for our diminishing congregation in an urban core neighborhood is still up for debate. Some members think she's the answer to their prayers; others, especially the older members, shake their heads in despair.

At Easter I took my final communion in a church I have grown to love, but now found lacking in grace and fellowship. It was my goodbye. I told Hubby, who has refused to take communion in the church for the past year, it was my last gesture of love towards the church. Hubby had promised that he would attend the church through August, and so once or twice a month we have traveled the highway to our church, sat through services in the basement, listened to the strange new music and gritted out teeth, and tried to find something redeeming in the situation.
The other Sundays we attended neighborhood churches or visited services when our friends invited us. After ten plus years of attending church EVERY Sunday, we also enjoyed a lazy Sunday morning here and there. Sunday brunches are very nice. Sunday errand running means we have more time to ourselves on the weekends.

Today we sat in the back pews for 15 minutes. Then Hubby turned to me and said, "You want to go get breakfast?" and we quietly got up during the silent prayer and left. I don't think we'll go back. There's just nothing there for us any longer.

It's sad to say goodbye to something that was such a meaningful and wonderful part of our lives. But when your heart no longer finds joy and peace in the church, it's definitely time to look elsewhere.


Margaret said...

That is very sad, but it sounds like you were very fair to the church and gave it your all. If it's not working for you, it IS time to find someplace that does.

Anonymous said...

I was very sad to read your story. I am an Anglican (Episcopalian) Priest in Canada. Church decline and aging populations are a sad reality in many congregations today.

It is particualrly difficult for many of us to see what was so meaningful decaying and dying.

But there is hope. It is Christ's church - not ours. If Christ is who we beleive him to be - he will not let his church die. Though it may be that some of our church may need to die to bring new life through the seeds we sew.

If we have the energy we should be risking the life of our church for the new life that will grow from seeds sewn on ground we have, or at least Christ has prepared.

This is a difficult time of sacrifice for so many of us - please pray that many are able to find meaning in the dying and the rebirth. Thank you for all your years of caring for the church. Give thanks to God for what the church has meant in your life. May God bring you peace as you and Hubby find a new direction.