Friday, January 24, 2014

Aging Church

Our pastor is on sabbatical, and thus, we have invited several guest pastors to preach while he's gone.

Hard to believe his sabbatical is half over.  But that's not what I want to write about.

I anticipated that it would be interesting to have different pastors, and it has been, both in ways you'd expect (a different preaching style) and in ways I didn't.

Our guest pastor last week told us that she's the interim pastor for a congregation in the middle of the state where my spouse and I did some freelance budget work almost a decade ago.  So I'm familiar, sort of, with the area.  It's a beautiful little town by a lake.  I remember wanting to move there as we drove around.  We commented on the lack of traffic, the affordable housing, the picturesque quality of the downtown.

I remember the Lutheran church as being similarly picturesque, situated on a huge plot of land with pine trees shading the back part of the property.  It looked like a thriving church.

Oh, how appearances can deceive.  It is not a thriving church.  They can only afford to pay for an interim pastor for two Sundays a month.  They haven't started the process to find a permanent pastor.

I mentioned our past wanderings and the appeal of the Lutheran church to the pastor.  I said, "We thought that if we moved to that town, we'd have a church."

The pastor said, "You'd have been the youngest ones there."

Well, that wouldn't be unfamiliar.  And we're in our late 40's, not exactly young.

I suspect that many Lutheran churches face a similar fate:  aging congregations, lack of ability to afford a permanent pastor, buildings that are bigger than the congregation needs, aging buildings that need attention.

I think of past generations, like my grandparents or great grandparents.  What would they make of this situation?  How sad would they be?

Of course, it doesn't do much good to keep doing the analysis of how we came to be in this situation of shrinking congregations and aging buildings and members.  Lots of people have written eloquent elegies, but here's the short list:  more multiculturalism, less peer pressure to go to church, more work hours, lots of other diversions, more education which leads to questioning which the Church hasn't been good at answering.

The question, really, is where will we go from here?  Where do we see the Holy Spirit at work?

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