|You can't tell it, but this path goes steeply uphill|
The last week of June, the congregation had the meeting that no one really wanted to have – the church conference to vote on placing the church’s property on the market. The two questions that kept getting discussed at our many meetings were:
1. Is it a faithful use of offerings to fund an annual budget of almost $100,000 that gets spent maintaining a large building and grounds and paying a pastor for what essentially turns out to be one hour on Sunday, for 25 people?
2. If there were a church who needed all of the property’s space, and would use it immediately and well for Christian ministry and mission, was selling the property to that church the right thing to do? By this point, we knew St. Thomas More was interested and needed the space.Most members had become resigned to the probability that light rail would happen. Construction in three years would heavily impact the street that provided access to Aldersgate.
The church conference was postponed twice, as I tried to find a date when the most people could be present. You have to be a church member to vote at a church conference, and you must be physically present to vote. Pastors are not members of the church and therefore do not vote.
A day or two before the church conference, the people I knew to be in favor of selling began to drop like flies. Our lay leader fell and broke her shoulder; another person had a heart attack, and another a small stroke. If one person of a married couple was “out,” they were both “out.”
I began to worry that the vote would be too close – a simple majority wins, but a simple majority should not win, in my opinion. If a vote is that close, then the church needs to pray and talk some more.
Furthermore, there had been some confusion – was a vote to sell also a vote to do a house church? Actually, a vote to sell was a vote to continue to gather as a church elsewhere, which we – at that point – assumed was going to be a house church.
The day of the vote, I thought to gather everyone in the fellowship hall and was surprised when a member suggested we convene in the (still new) sanctuary. We had to wait because the district superintendent was alone in the sanctuary, praying. I was impressed by that.
Once everyone was in the sanctuary, the D.S. explained the procedure, and handed out slips of paper to vote. The question before us was: Yes or No – Shall Aldersgate place the property on the market for sale? It took several minutes for her to collect the paper and count the votes. The vote was “yes” by a three-quarter majority, even with all the missing people.Our district superintendent preached a little message from Acts about the early Christians gathering in houses. She reminded Aldersgate that, if the property sold, we did not have to buy another property but could lease or rent. As long as we continued to gather weekly for worship – no matter where or when – we would be Aldersgate United Methodist Church.