The possible closing of our church had been whispered about in hushed voices for the last couple of years. Attendance had dropped to an all time low during services, and with the average age of congregants being over 65, it didn’t appear that attendance was going to be increasing anytime soon.
This was the very church where my husband and I had stood before our families and received our engagement blessing. Both the kids had attended Sunday school and confirmation classes after service, and as the years passed and our families grew, this church had even married our children and baptised grandchildren.
Sadly, I can still see my father-in-law’s casket gently carried up before the alter during his funeral service, the first time I had experienced the deep pain of burying a parent. With so many memories, both sad and equally joyful, I’m not surprised at how attached I had become to this very brick and mortar location.
Of course, there is another congregation from the same denomination we’re able to join just thirty minutes away, but it won’t be the same. This original location had been the keeper of our memories, and now our church was being sold and ultimately repurposed by a new owner. The thought of it possibly being torn down or renovated into something totally unrecognizable, was too disturbing to even imagine.
Soon after our kids graduated, left home, and married, I must confess that even our attendance became somewhat sporadic. With my husband working out of town, I found myself easily distracted on Sunday mornings, choosing to put off service to finish a list of activities that had eluded me during the week.
Strangely, both kids had chosen spouses who didn’t come from traditionally religious families, and although their mates are loving and excellent parents to our grandchildren, their spouses weren’t exactly interested in attending the family’s church.
With a guilty heart, I must admit that our entire family now only joined together for worship during ‘holiday services’. Surprisingly, we had become one of those families who seem to only show up for Christmas, Easter, and the odd wedding, or funeral. Unbenounced to me, we had lost our position as regulars with the congregation and were now thought of as casual visitors. A label I would ultimately regret.
Realizing that three generations of our family had sat in the same two pews for countless years, we had managed to claim our seats without even realizing it during our regular attendance. The first time my husband and I walked into a service after a prolonged absence, we were surprised, and a little hurt to see the pews occupied with a few visiting strangers. These unsuspecting guests had been shown to seats that were open, and in one fair swoop, we had lost any unwritten claim to our family pews.
Sitting across the aisle, I couldn’t help but assess the situation. Both our kids and their spouses occasionally worked weekends, never mind the grandkid’s sporting commitments which kept the family running most Saturdays and Sundays. My husband’s elderly mother rarely ventured out in bad weather anymore, and even when the family attended, we always seemed to be in a rush, begging off fellowship just to be able to hurry off to another commitment that was demanding our time.
I assumed many families in the congregation were feeling a similar time-pinch, and when our senior elder also began missing services because of a conflicting work schedule, it seemed to suddenly give the remaining congregation permission to follow suit.
Subsequent sermons even addressed career scheduling difficulties in relationship to worship, the church well aware that their members were no longer employed in regular Monday to Friday careers. For good or bad, we had evolved into a 24/7 society, and organized religion was beginning to pay the price.
The pulpit regularly addressed this situation, but no matter how often it was discussed, society appeared to have ‘scheduled-out’ regular Sunday attendance, and families fell by the wayside as their conflicting commitments continued to claim their weekends.
When the already small choir began noticeably shrinking in size, it seemed to be the final straw, as some services were even forced to continue their worship without an organist. Our congregation was silently dying right before our eyes, and we, the members, were apparently unwilling, or possibly even unable to change it.
With little advance notice, the church suddenly posted its closing date. Emotions ran the gambit from hurt to anger, but no one expressed any measurable degree of surprise. I’m told the final service passed without incident, my husband out of town, and me confined to my bed with a crippling bout of the stomach flu, we once again did not attend.
Weeks later, when my husband was back in town, we drove to the old church, disturbed to see that all signage and religious symbols had been removed, nothing more than their faded shadows still clinging to the building’s exterior. Silently, I said a prayer for the empty building, thanking it for standing so strong and true all these past decades.
With all the curtains drawn and doors locked, we were unable to tell if the pews, pulpit, and organ had been relocated to another congregation. I truly hoped that the furniture hadn’t been casually left behind as part of the total sale package to entice prospective buyers.
“So, what now?” My husband had asked upon pulling back onto the street.
I guess we check out the downtown location,” I half whispered with a shrug of my shoulders.
We, like so many generations past, have always depended on our church to comfort and house us for any celebrations, or tragedies, that might have fallen upon our family members. What we’ve all seemed to forget over the years, is that the church is a living entity, and our attendance and monetary donations feed that very life. If we don’t regularly attend, we can’t be disappointed when we have nowhere to go when we are in the need of solace.
As a proud member of THE FIFTY CANDLES CLUB, I am going to honestly try and be a more regular member of our new church, feeding the congregation with my presence, and my commitment. Standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow members in a much larger church with a new location, I will once again work toward establishing permanent seats in another pew.
As of this writing, we have yet to attend, so busy with Minor Hockey week and an illness in our family, we weren’t able to schedule our attendance.