When a church dies…

Yesterday we closed a Presbytery worship service declaring a building vacated and dissolving that worshiping community as a congregation. It was a moment to recognize that death happens.

The week before that I preached at that same church on Jesus’ prediction of his death and resurrection and Peter’s rebuking him that he can’t die (Matthew 16).

We have a tendency to confuse form and function. In that moment I believe Peter was obsessed with the form of Christ. He didn’t have a failure of faith. He has a failure of imagination. He could not imagine Christ outside of the way he had experienced him to that point. He was obsessed with the form, rather than the function of God… of Jesus. So resurrection held no hope for him. He didn’t want resurrection – he wanted not to have to go through any changes.

We get that way about Church. (God too…) We get where we obsess about the forms we know and are comfortable with and cannot see past them. But God is on the move. And the form of the Church is too… the Church will form and re-form as need arises to fulfill its function. When a form has played its part… it will die. But that doesn’t mean the Church dies. The Church is not a form. And the Church will find a new way to be manifest even as we mourn the loss of the way we knew, the way we were comfortable with, the way we wish it could still be.

The challenge I find with regards to death is that we are called to give it neither too much, nor too little, credit. When we obsess on death we miss the point, and those who wish we would talk more and longer about “a dying church” are perhaps a bit too obsessed with form. The Church isn’t dying… the Church is finding a new form. Its purposes will still be lived out, its function is as much in demand as it always has been and always will be. It just isn’t necessarily being met the same way we are used to imagining. Like Peter… we need to give that up a bit and challenge our imaginations to see a new way. We need to be Church making real the same hope, love, and justice in very new ways through unfamiliar forms.  We need to trust that resurrection is real, and – wait for it – good.  We need to be willing to be re-formed.

We proclaimed yesterday at the end of the service that this site was no longer a worshiping congregation of our church. But as I walked out the words that resounded in my head were, “but of his kingdom there shall be no end.”  The Church – even THAT church – will go on.  Its a form that died, not its function, not its purpose, not even its being.  That is simply waiting for resurrection and the new form it will take as God coaxes life from the formlessness and void, and calls it good.

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About Andrew Kukla

I am the proud father of four wonderful children, loving husband to Caroline, brother to three mostly wonderful sisters, and son of two parents that gifted me with a foundation of love and freedom. I also am a Presbyterian pastor and former philosophy major with a love of too many words (written with many grammatical errors and parenthetic thoughts), Soren Kierkegaard, and reflections on living a life of discipleship that is open to all the challenges, ups and downs, brokenness and grace, of a chaotic and wonderful life founded upon the love of God for all of creation.

Posted on September 8, 2014, in Church-ology, Sermons and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Years ago I was part of an Administrative Commission that closed a church in southeastern Ohio. The power company, known as Ohio Power at that time, had bought up all the surrounding property from property owners and strip mined it for coal. This was before the Land Reclamation Act. The only property left was the small church building with a wood burning stove for heat. It was totally surrounded by barren land. The pastor was Everett Leedom, a wonderful man of deep spirituality who served two other churches yoked together with the one that was closing as well as running his own dairy farm and caring for his adult son with Downs Syndrome.

    Churches close for different reasons. Some might say this one closed due to the greed of the power company, but small property owners and farmers had a difficult time making a living in that area for a number of reasons and selling their property for a fair price in an historically economically depressed area was a good option. It closed due to necessity.

    It bothers me when the left leaning Presbyterians and right leaning Presbyterians spit at each other and say that our denomination is dying. It is changing, not dying. Adapt or die. We are adapting and that disturbs all of us on the left, the right, and the middle. We are creatures of comfort. Let’s get uncomfortable…

  1. Pingback: A once in a career event…prayerfully and hopefully | Edward says…

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