Sunday, December 5, 2010

THE PARTY'S OVER

Last Monday, our congregation held a special congregational meeting. I wasn't feeling well, so I skipped the event. I had other reasons too, which I'll relate later.

At the meeting, the congregation decided to fold. To quit. Go out of existence. To close it's doors and sell the property, probably to a commercial developer.

There were comments on the decision this morning, though it was hardly news. Mostly a sense of sadness, and "Where now?"

I could look at the congregation, Sunday by Sunday, and see this death approaching. Attendance at Sunday worship is somewhere around 60; that's a lot less than in the 1980s. The building is large, old, and thus expensive to maintain. Most of the people at worship are elderly, many on fixed incomes (and often low incomes). Meaning income isn't meeting expenses.

There are a handfull of younger (as in below retirement age) people who come. They have, by and large, not felt willing or able to take on the role of congregational leadership. There are maybe three or four in their teens. This does not bode well for the future.

So, yes; the decision was hardly a surprise.

About my other reasons for not going.

1. I was a pastor of this congregation in the 1980s. When I became disabled, about five and a half years ago, this is where I eventually ended up; in the midst of a very supportive community.

2. That being said, I knew I didn't have anything to offer that wouldn't be said by others at the meeting. And I certainly don't have the energy to lead any new development.

3. This is one of four congregations in our city what I have served. Of those four, this is the third, in the space of six years, which has decided to close. I'm beginning to think that I'm a "bad luck charm." Actually, I'm not, but sometimes I wonder about the future of our denomination, the largest protestant Church in Canada. I feel very sad, and uneasy about that future. Really, it's heartbreaking.

One other thing. If you have not read my "Religion as a Source for Social Good?" post from Tuesday, I would appreciate your taking the time to do so. I'd also appreciate a comment; I'm in a "learning mode" on this topic, and need some help here.

Thanks.

21 comments:

Teacher's Pet said...

Rob....I was just talking with Mama on the phone. She said that there were 15 at their church this morning. When I was a girl, that church was a thriving and growing church and now there are only a handful that attend....most of them over 70 years of age. It would make me very sad to see the doors closed on their church, but I understand about having to do so.
We are Protestants...and here in the Southern part of the United States, Protestants make up the majoritiy of the religious sector, I suppose. I haven't done a lot of research on the numbers. The church that my husband and I attend is a Southern Baptist church...and our attendance runs in the 200's for Sunday School. We started off as a small country church....and we have built a new sanctuary within the past few years...and continue to grow. The important growth is the spiritual one...within.
I send you warmest hugs....and will read your "Religion as a Source for Social Good" blog again. Take care of you, Rob....
Smiles,
Jackie

lakeviewer said...

Sorry to hear about your congregation folding. I shall back-track and read the other post you suggested.
Yes, without support, even the best institutions fold.

dana said...

Our church went the way of the pump engine. Joe and I were there when it was in a pizza parlor. We were there when we grew into a large church. We were there when the pizza parlor could have held what members were left. As I played guitar, and led the congregation in prayers, I swore I'd stay until it was no more.

I was surprised when we left before it completely imploded, but our time had come and we removed ourselves.

We were under the impression that it was a happy little church. When Joe joined the board, we discovered more infighting than what you'd expect in Harlem at 1 a.m. on a Saturday night.

And we've never been contacted by anyone we left behind. The friendships are situational at best. Much like those we find, and lose, on the internet.

Rob-bear said...

® Teacher's Pet: Thanks for your thoughtfulness, Jackie. I've served a number of those "15 member congregations" in my years as a pastor. Love them; love the people. But when expenses run $20,000 a year over income, as is the current case, "somethin's gotta give."

® lakeviewer: Thanks to you too, Rosaria. Not an easy time for me, on several levels. Heartbreaking, really.

The Bipolar Diva said...

That's very sad.

Brenda Susan said...

Hi Rob, thanx for the kind note. I really feel for you in this end-of-a-church transition. It's similar to a death in the family because as you know, our churches become our family don't they?

Hubs & I are in a strange position now after leading churches for about 26 years...it feels like church as an institution is just not working anymore. We spend so much time & energy on paying for the buildings that real ministry is not happening.

The dilemma in this opinion is that we have no replacement for church as we've known it. We know what we do not want, but have no idea what is next.

Many of my blog posts are about freedom and it is usually freedom FROM "church" or "religion" as we've known it.

Anyway I know God loves an open mind and people who are willing to hold their hard & fast denominational beliefs loosely. You are a thinker and not afraid to hit the tough subjects so I know He is enjoying your blog just as much as I am!

Tattie Weasle said...

The same thing is happening over here it the UK Church attendance is down and getting smaller all the time. However, there are pockets of hope. Where one church wanes another waxes but it is difficult to see your own church slowly and inorexably drift to sleep...

potsoc said...

Religion is a state of mind not a building, a bureaucracy or a set of rules; religions are all the formers and, nowadays, tend to exist for their own conservation more than for their adherents.
God is not labeled nor copyrighted and belongs to everyone...even the Atheists.
For many years now I have felt near God anywhere I fancy but somehow I have stopped seeing Him in organized religions with their pomps and circumstances ever more devoid of real meaning.
Maybe we should collectively developp more of a Pagan pantheist mind without need for buildings and rigid rules, just a sense of partaking of the universe. Back to basics, so to speak.

The Blog Fodder said...

Can you blog about why churches die? By that I mean local congregations who meet in a specific building. I understand small groups who fail to attract outsiders and simply fade away like small towns. What makes a large vibrant church community? What makes it shrink away to nothing? Is it just demographics? Is there something systemic?

Amanda said...

rob bear -- i am so sorry to hear this news - this is truly heartbreaking. i don't know what to say about the decline in congregations such as yours - except to say that (as an avowed optimist) i believe humans will always have a need to come together in a spiritual manner. when old structures break down it is because they are being replaced by new ways in which people need to gather, and i pray that your community will find a way to restructure and come together.

xo

ain't for city gals said...

I often wonder how the churches are doing in this day and age ..financially I mean. It is sad to see the small ones go but the mega churches that have 10 big screen TVs, Starbucks etc...they are a business..not a church and I don't have any sympathy for them. My church is when I am jogging in the Az desert...I have often felt if people would take their "church time" and do one good deed for their neighbors the world would be a better place.

GutsyWriter said...

I am sorry for you and others who feel a part of their community is disappearing. Perhaps younger generations will find a different way. People are changing.

Natalie said...

People are changing, that is certainly true.
I think society is moving more towards the body being the temple from which to worship God. In my opinion, it is a very intimate relationship and so for me, this works. I believe also that people should take responsibility for their own actions and not rely on others to 'do good'.
We should all be like Mother Teresa and just love the closest ones at the time. If we all did so, the world would be wonderful. Oh Yeah...............

Nancy said...

I'm really sorry about this change in your congregation. It must be so hard to lose something that brings a feeling of togetherness. I'll backtrack and read what you wrote on the subject.

Tess Kincaid said...

I'm always sad to hear of a congregation folding. When God closes a door, I always like to look for the open window.

Cait O'Connor said...

Can your small group still meet up elsewhere? It is sad when things fold due to lack of numbers.

Lori said...

Even though I am no longer a church goer I can imagine the sadness over this. I am sorry for this loss. Is there any way for those still left to meet some place else? Or is that not an option?

I am hearing of more and more people that have quit going to church for many of the same reasons that I did and I wonder if this is a trend that is happeneing every where?

Happy Thursday Rob-Bear. XX

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Since I have been "away" in bear-hibernating weather I have missed out on your posts.

So sorry to hear about this gradual loss and final chapter of your congregation. As a Methodist in the South, I have many options of affiliation with communities of believers. The strength is not in the building (although the expenses must be paid), but in those who do His work... too much to cover here...

Again, so sorry to hear of this, Bear.

Hugs,
G

The Blog Fodder said...

Read the comments. You have some very good readers with common sense, sympathy and understanding. Good thing you have me to balance all that off.

Rebecca said...

Since Sadie commented on my blog yesterday, I came over to have a look at "Chrome". Don't know why I chose to look at THIS particular post, but it hits close to home - relates to a conversation my (pastor) husband and I have been having quite frequently and involving our own small, country congregation...

No earth-shattering conclusions or counsel yet. Just deep contemplation and attempts at discernment.

Rob-bear said...

® Rebecca: Thank you for coming by and leaving a note. I hope your congregation's life is strong, and your faith continually renewed. Sunday blessings.