|Can you believe this is part of a path?|
Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas
There are at least two “tracks” to this story – the potential sale of the property, and what the congregation would do if the property sold. Writing this next chapter is tricky, and it disturbs me.
In the weeks between the approval by the District Board of Church Location and Building to sell the property, and the twice-postponed church conference to vote on the same, I did a lot of talking with our (mostly elderly) church members. I began to get the feeling that some of our active leaders were planning to leave Aldersgate rather than be a part of a house-church. Many members seemed ready for the church to close. Some seemed to be looking for a guilt-free way to exit.
Some were weary of addressing never-ending building issues; others were worn out from having to serve through difficult times as church leaders. Most people realized that what we currently have is not sustainable financially nor numerically. The people already doing the work of the church suspected that a house-church would mean more work. Some folks felt Divinity students living for free in a house would not respect the space, and there would be conflict.
There was a turning point. Our “sister” church, Aldersgate UMC in Durham, brought their choir and musicians to our church to perform their Easter cantata, on a week night soon after Easter. That evening, the choir had more singers than there were people in the congregation.
The cantata was incredibly beautiful. I felt an almost physical pain in my heart; I had not realized how much I miss hearing and singing beautiful sacred music. I was not the only one to feel this pain. Our church apparently used to have a very good choir and excellent music. Those days were long gone, and the cantata reminded people not only of what no longer existed, but of what is still available at other churches.
The next time I met with the district superintendent, I suggested – what if Aldersgate sells the property, and closes? We’ve come this far; could the church distribute all – or most, or even half – of the proceeds in order to leave a legacy, probably in the form of a scholarship or two? The answer was no. Read the Discipline, pastor. The church closes first, and the conference takes possession of the property. If it is sold, the money is used to start new churches.
If that is the case, Aldersgate might decide to sit in place, I argued. Decline would likely continue, and the building would begin to deteriorate. Once light rail started construction, the property might be devalued. Members were tired, I said, and many of them felt they could not worship without a traditional Sunday morning service with an organ, a choir, beautiful windows, and a robed pastor delivering a well-crafted sermon. My arguments did not sway. I was encouraged not to give up on the house-church.When I brought my findings back to the church, we had a long conversation and a straw vote. Members overwhelmingly were in favor of forging ahead with the sale of the property – and, oh yes – the house-church, too.
If God calls you to walk on a rocky road, may he give you strong shoes.
– Irish proverb