During the worship service I mentioned that First Presbyterian Church (Prince Rupert) closed this past week. You read the story and watch a video about it HERE. There is inevitable sadness with the closing of any ministry. But as the the story/video reveals there is the realisation that God's mission exceeds the lifespan of any ministry. And while the Presbyterian church may no longer have a witnessing congregation in Prince Rupert, God will continue to minister in that city, even use the old church for new purposes.
There are a number of ways to think about the closure of a worshipping community.
We often tend to think of failure. That is we tend to think of about the closure of a worshipping community as the result of missteps. We ask, "What went wrong?". We question the capabilities of their pastors and the focus of the church's ministry. We imagine a community that has selfishly lost an outward focus and devoted itself to exclusively to member-care.
Often many of those things have happened. There may have been a string of poor leaders. The congregation may have become overly focused on caring for themselves. But churches that are marginal are less likely to attract capable leaders. Aging congregations tend to have less energy and narrower fields of concerns than communities that have just been born. And if the church has depended largely on one generation of leaders (and sometime there are no leaders-in-waiting) this would seem to be a inevitable result direction of any community, a sort of natural cycle. It would be born in a burst of energy, become productive in its maturity, and decline as it ages.
When a community in this situation closes, we often look at it as failure.
But a closure can be a courageous act of faithfulness. For it releases those who are overburdened by supporting a failing ministry, to join in the effective work that God is accomplishing in the community. Closing a congregation can also free up some previously unavailable resources. In the case of First Presbyterian the sale of the church property will result in funds being release to Presbytery for innovative new work in the province.
But what about those of us who wish to buck a nature cycle of life and death in our churches? It would seem that the mentoring and discipleship of new leadership is crucial. We need to cultivate new leaders for the next generation. At the same time it would seem that a broad view God's work is necessary. For if we limit our focus on the few areas that we've seen God work in the past we are bound to overlook where God is leading the next generation to want to make a difference. And they will go elsewhere where the environment is more supportive of their God-given passions.
Will our congregation be around for another 100 years? Only God knows. But whether we are around for another 5 years or another 50 years, it is certain that God will continue to partner with God's people both through established congregations and through innovative new ministries.
Image from RCallender "Church for sale: First Baptist Church (583 East Broad Street Columbus, OH 43215, United States)"