Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Church is not a Resting Place; The Church is a People.



I am the church! You are the church!
We are the church together!
All who follow Jesus,
all around the world!
Yes, we're the church together!

1. The church is not a building;
the church is not a steeple;
the church is not a resting place;
the church is a people.


2. We're many kinds of people,
with many kinds of faces,
all colours and all ages, too
from all times and places.


5. At Pentecost some people
received the Holy Spirit
and told the Good News through the world
to all who would hear it.


Do you know this hymn? It's not in the United Church hymn resource, Voices United, yet in year's past we sang it in congregations I served, complete with actions. It's upbeat and has a pretty good message and as I recall kids liked the aerobic part. Perhaps children's choirs led the congregation in singing it -- remember children's choirs...remember children in church? 

Last Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost, celebrating the birth of the Way, the church of Jesus Christ, and that first verse hits home as we hear of more and more congregational amalgamations or disbandments. Church buildings across the country are being closed and sold, or their is radical repurposing of the structures.

This week it's Trinity Sunday and coincidentally I saw an article in the Peterborough Examiner about the dissolution of the Trinity United Church congregation and the closing of the historic building later this month. Another Trinity congregation, in Bowmanville, will hold it's final service tomorrow,  on Trinity Sunday. That church building was where my parents were married and I was received as an intending candidate for ordained ministry nearly 50 years ago (I was a toddler.) It's a couple of blocks from St. Paul's UC which I served for a decade. 

The United Church of Canada was formed with a great sense of promise in June of 1925, 97 years ago yesterday. The UCC was once a robust mainline denomination, which became an old-line denomination, and now...well, what have we become? I appreciate the courage of those who are "keeping the faith" in turbulent times and we have a son and a nephew who are clergy leading active and innovative congregations. This past Sunday there were about a dozen children in worship in son Isaac's congregation and there was a fun event following the service which involved participation across generations. Today the congregation will have a booth as part of Pride in the Park in Belleville. They both serve churches which have amalgamated in recent years and still have immense challenges in the present and for the future. 

The Examiner article about Trinity UC offers: 

In 2019, it was estimated about one third of Canada’s 27,000 churches would close over the next 10 years, facing the prospect of being boarded up, sold off or demolished to make way for other developments. The United Church of Canada alone is losing about 300 churches a year across the country.

Can this be true? A few decades ago we were informed that more congregations were amalgamating or closing than were opening, and then that the denomination was closing a pastoral charge per week, on average. If the Examiner statistic is correct then it's now about six churches per week across the country. The pandemic has certainly accelerated these tough decisions.

While there don't seem to be any ready solutions to the mainline/oldline decline there is plenty of conversation about how we might consider Christian community in different ways. Congregations are entering into partnerships with social service agencies, sharing facilities. There is an initiative to turn church buildings into residences, including affordable housing. Clergy are adjusting to part-time ministry.

Through all this I hope what remains of the United Church will be Trinitarian, Christ centred, Spirit led, faithful to the Creator. There is still the opportunity for vital ministry if we open to what God, three-in-one, has in store for us, even when the buildings are gone or look radically different. 

God be with all who are mourning the loss of their familiar places of worship with all their memories, including the members of the two Trinity congregations. 

With the Church through the ages,
we speak of God as one and triune:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We also speak of God as
    Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer
    God, Christ, and Spirit
    Mother, Friend, and Comforter
    Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love,
    and in other ways that speak faithfully of
the One on whom our hearts rely,
the fully shared life at the heart of the universe.

We witness to Holy Mystery that is Wholly Love….

from the United Church Statement of Faith, A Song of Faith 2006

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