Within this region of United Brethren churches I hold the role of Cluster Leader. (For those associated with other denominations, it has a handful of similarities to a District Superintendent) As the Cluster Leader I have the opportunity to lead monthly meetings with other local UB pastors and to also be somewhat of a liaison between the denomination and the seven local churches that make up our UB Cluster.
This past Sunday I had the privilege to preach at the largest UB church in the Cluster during each of their three services. I was there as part of an announcement of a pastoral transition that will be happening at that church this summer. It was an honor to be able to represent the denomination and to be able to share the message God placed on my heart, but it was exhausting. Just to drive home was a challenge as my body was shutting down. Although this was an exciting announcement, the demands of preaching three times led to a quick lunch and then a two hour nap that I had difficulty waking from. (I’m not implying I was dying, just really comfy LOL)
I was running sluggish at the beginning of this week, and had to take a short nap yesterday in order to function as Cluster Leader in a much different venue last night. . . the closing of a church. The 7PM meeting was a little over an hour drive south of where we live and when I introduced myself it was evident their hearts were incredibly heavy. The denomination itself cannot close a church, it has to come from the church leadership after looking at a variety of circumstances to see if that is in the best interest for the church.
We started the meeting with prayer and looked at a portion of Scripture from James 1 about wisdom. Wisdom is what we all needed. Wisdom from God was necessary.
As I proceeded to lead them through this process we tried to come up with other solutions other than to close. They had no pastor, but could they find a retired one to fill in? Would that just delay the inevitable? What about a church merge? Not much interest in that. Part-time? Could the denomination find another person to serve? My heart is broken as I write this at the pain that I saw in the eyes of this church. The tears. The history. The memories. The reality that closure was sadly the answer.
After a lengthy discussion it was agreed that the needed path to take was to dissolve the church. With pain I said that someone from the board needed to make a motion to close the church and then a vote needed to be taken. Silence. No one wanted to make that motion. The tears from many started to roll of their cheeks. I was watching deep scars forming in the hearts of these wonderful people.
After 15 seconds of silence one member weepfully made the motion to proceed with the closing of the church, followed by a second. The vote was cast, the decision made, to close the doors of the church.
It was nearly 9PM when all the questions to me were answered and a plan was set in motion by the church board as to the steps to take from this point forward. After I closed in prayer the finality of the evenings decisions started to really sink in. The tears fell even more. All on the church board had attended for most of their lives. One dear saint had been a member for 63 years and for most this was the only church they had ever attended.
I hugged most of them before I left, knowing that a couple of them were so heartbroken that they were doing all they could to not break down weeping. My heart was broken for them. It wasn’t until this morning that I was even able to talk with Amanda about it because of the scars that they felt because of the church closing.
I wanted to fix it for them. I wanted to take their pain and make it all go away, but I couldn’t. Their hearts are not only scarred by mine is too.
As I was driving home I was numb. With music playing the song came on by Chris Tomlin “How Great is Our God” and I began to cry. I have no doubts about the greatness of God and even walking with this church during this process doesn’t cast any doubt either. What my heart was so heavy over was that these precious people are starting down a difficult road to travel and I pray that even in the midst of these scars that they will always seek God in every area of life and never doubt His greatness.
Because of God’s greatness we can make it through even the deepest scars in our lives. My scars can be exhausting, and I am definitely that today. I don’t like the scars of a church closing its doors either. They dig deep. They hurt. It can be hard to have hope.
This church, you, and I must cling to the promise of Jesus to Paul (and each of us) in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
In our weakness, He is strong and He is all we need to make it through the scars in our lives.