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I have never (yet) been a minister when one of the churches I have been assigned to has voted to close. That is not a boast: just an observation- I expect it will happen one day.
I am clear that there are no set reasons ‘why’; it has been happening since the dawn of followers of Jesus gathering together to pray, encourage each other, learn, live in a counter cultural way..and calling themselves ‘church’. The book of Revelation is written to 7 churches: none of which now exist.
I guess that in the current climate, where I believe that we are experiencing more social and cultural change than at any time for 500 years, it is ineviatable that many will go the same way. The same has followed with many businesses and institutions.
The first honest response I came up with was ‘Is God dead?’ ‘Or was God ever there?’. So- religion is just a primitive stage that we passed though. Leaving aside the way that that statement deeply patronises others (the sub text: they are primitive; I have gone beyond that), I think it needs to be asked and aired publicly. I know there is a place for celebration and thanksgiving- I will come to that in a future post- but there is a deeper place for honesty.
As Christians, I think we have been given a fantastic gift: raw honesty to ask any question without flinching. Trouble is, we struggle to do so…. I have lost account of the number of worship songs I just cannot sing; they so often lie or want to put a happy ending on something- it is the equivalent of choking off a scream. I wonder sometimes about the effect of singing them all the time (sometimes/often is great- I dance around the kitchen, go ‘woop’ at Man Utd winning, am amazed at a sunset, fall in love more and more with my family, am excited at good news of friends etc…. this has to be reflected in worship…although whether always in ‘G’ and with tired, repetitive phrases is a matter of conjecture) when you are struggling.
I start most days with a Psalm. Only one have I ever heard someone else use Psalm88 in worship: the bleakest of all Psalms- there is no happy ending, no resolution. And sometimes that is enough and that is OK. I think God can work better with honesty than pretence.
You keep me safe, Lord God. So when I pray at night, 2 please listen carefully to each of my concerns.
3 I am deeply troubled and close to death; 4 I am as good as dead and completely helpless. 5 I am no better off than those in the grave, those you have forgotten and no longer help.
6 You have put me in the deepest and darkest grave; 7 your anger rolls over me like ocean waves. 8 You have made my friends turn in horror from me. I am a prisoner who cannot escape, 9 and I am almost blind because of my sorrow.
Each day I lift my hands in prayer to you, Lord. 10 Do you work miracles for the dead? Do they stand up and praise you? 11 Are your love and loyalty announced in the world of the dead? 12 Do they know of your miracles or your saving power in the dark world below where all is forgotten?
13 Each morning I pray to you, Lord. 14 Why do you reject me? Why do you turn from me? 15 Ever since I was a child, I have been sick and close to death. You have terrified me and made me helpless.[b]
16 Your anger is like a flood! And I am shattered by your furious attacks 17 that strike each day and from every side. 18 My friends and neighbors have turned against me because of you, and now darkness is my only companion.
Each Wednesday, for the next few weeks I hope to post some thoughts about closing a church. This has been occasioned by the church that I used to be a minister of (St John’s Colwyn Bay- now St John’s Uniting Church) from 1999-2004 voting to close in May 2013.