Today I passed by my old Presbyterian Church. I do every week as I travel to a standing appointment with a client. This week was different though. As I made the turn at the corner the church sign read “THANK YOU!”. A Real Estate sign, though very small, planted on the corner. I knew there was talk of it closing. It must have happened.
This Church is a mainstay of the town. One of several in fact. In a small town like mine, a beautiful “town church” like this one is something of a landmark you can’t miss. Now it will be empty. Growing up in the public school arena even as recent as the 80s “What is your denomination” was not a rarely heard question, student to student. Methodists, Assemblies of God, Presbyterian, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal. It gave us an identity if for nothing else attached us to our parents. “We go to the Presbyterian Church” or “I’m Presbyterian” was my call. In elementary school I had little understanding of what that meant. Oh I knew some things, like the Methodists always had donuts after their services and were almost identical to us. I knew the Catholics prayed to Mary and they were wrong. I knew the Episcopals were almost Catholic but weren’t. I had this funny idea that the Baptist Church was empty because I knew a sum total of zero people who attended it my age.
That is all in the past now. Today I doubt that many kids gets asked by their peers “What denomination are you?” Our culture of identifying with your faith is slowly being eroded. It’s a shame really. Most of the kids in my parish however can recite to you’re the Baltimore Catechism entirely by the time they are confirmed. The identity is strong. But that is probably an aberration.
As I reflect on the closing of the Church that I grew up in it makes me sad to realize than in just a short period of 10 years a congregation can go from being stable, hundred years or more old, and growing community to, well, dead. Growing up I remember our Sunday school classes were filled, Bible studies for the adults throughout the week. Our Youth Group was something we all looked forward to joining. Once I did it became one of the best things I did with my week. My NIV proves it. Most of the New Testament is out of place because whole chunks of it have fallen out. So what happened?
I don't want to talk here about the future of the mainline protestant communities. Although many of those current issues are germane reason for this individual congregation dying out.
Liberalism, Disagreement, and Identity. The beginning of the demise of the congregation begins with liberalism being imposed on it. Many years ago our pastor left. Selecting the new one took time so the Presbyteriate sent us a new one. A woman. That one single act sucked the life breath out of the whole place. Do you know who left? The big families with small children. That is a sure way to kill a congregation. As I've said here previously, they went and formed their own church across the river, which is now moving to a larger building. I also recently heard that some people left because the new pastor, once selected and a man, told the people who adhered to the Presbyterian confession. More people left. Once being a Presbyterian no longer matters then its only a matter of time before nobody cares to be one at all. Kaput.
As for the recent history of why it finally closed its doors I am unawares. But the signs were clear back then. Nevertheless, I’m kind of sad my old place is either ending or has ended. It did me a great service. The people there taught me to love God and I really believe if I had grown up Catholic I would not be one today. There was real grace operating in that church, at least in my case anyway.
I pray it does not become a bank. Please God, do not let it become a bank. A recent Byzantine Catholic parish in my area closed and it is becoming an unholy bank. This only lets the money-lenders back into the temple so to speak.