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Monday, May 12, 2014

Pastorgraphs: “Letters to a Dying Church”

E-Vangel Newsletter
May 12, 2014

Pastorgraphs: “Letters to a Dying Church”

I have been reading a series of well written articles on Sojourner’s website. Each has a different author, but follow the theme of “Letters to a Dying Church”. Mark Sandlin, Presbyterian minister from Greensboro NC, wrote one so poignant it brought me to tears. I provide a link to the article below, and encourage you to read it in its entirety.

Spoiler Alert: The gist of Sandlin’s article compares the pain of watching your church die to watching someone you love dearly die a slow death. You don’t want to let them go; yet you don’t want them to linger and suffer, either. But the article is not all depressing. Sandlin offers words of resurrection – that dying is not the worst thing that can happen. Indeed, dying is a natural part of our human existence as birth, growth, and maturity. I would like to share a few excerpts.

“To the dying church.

I hardly know what to say. Watching someone you love, who helped raise you, who cared for you when you weren't well, who partially defined who you would be, slowly perish before your eyes is difficult to say the least. I love you. I don't want to lose you.

But, this is life. These things happen. Those you love do die. It's just how it works. I mean, there were churches before you. They may not have looked like you or sung songs like you or taught exactly what you do, but they all had Love – just different ways of expressing it. They changed people's lives. They made some people better people and, sometimes, they made people worse people. Then, they died.

Death sucks.

I'm going to miss you – so much – but I refuse to mourn you. You will always be with me. The Love that has always sought to be known is still with us. The spirit that is the church will go on – thrive, even. It will just look different and sing differently and teach differently, but it will go on.

I really will miss you, truly, but I must admit I cannot wait to see what you will become on the other side. I'm so excited just thinking about the folks who will find new life in your new life. I get just a bit giddy thinking about the new places and space that Love will be shared. I get overwhelmed with joyfulness just thinking about the new ways you will learn to share Love.

Maybe this kind of death is a blessing after all. It's so belovedly human to hold on so tightly to what we know that we constantly miss the opportunity to catch hold of something that might lead us to wider fields. How very God-like of God to make death the beginning of a blessing.

So, just know, I am here. We are here. You can let go. We will water the seeds. We will nurture the fields and then we can dance in them again, together.” (End excerpts.)

Those who are predicting the death of the church are absolutely correct. But the church has been dying and getting itself reborn for over 2000 years. It’s so God-like to bring new life from death.

Even the churches that have been around for decades, or even centuries, have undergone countless inner deaths and resurrections. Concord Baptist Church, Calhoun County, MS, where my father and grandfather worshipped, will hold their annual homecoming this Sunday. Neither Daddy nor Grandpa Jenkins would recognize the church nor its worship today. That is a good thing as Concord holds to some wonderful traditions (including a rare Sacred Harp singing) but finds new ways to reach new people in a new day and age. 

Bishop Carcaño stated so fittingly a couple weeks ago what has happened at Christ United Methodist is the story of death and resurrection. As I think back over our 103 year history, this is not the first death and resurrection. The 1946 and 1968 denominational mergers were a form of death and new birth. Now, as we have lain in the tomb for three years since discontinuance in 2011, we are on the verge of our third rebirth as Exodus Parish.

Thank you Pastor Mark for these words of encouragement. You remind us, especially those of us who have deep roots in Old Christ Church, that we will water the seeds planted by our forbearers, nurture the fields anew, and not just survive, but thrive! Then we will “dance in those new fields and share Love in ways we've never imagined”.

Devotedly yours, Bill Jenkins

From the Quote Garden:
“Like I said, this isn't the first time you've died you know. How perfectly upside-down of God to show us exactly how alive God is through a dying church.”
~ Rev. Mark Sandlin, Sojourners ~

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