February 2015 Pastor’s Pen
Dear Holy Trinity family,
A church friend recently passed along an article about the sale and alternate use of church buildings in Europe. He’d heard me talk about wincing every time I pass the little white church on Hooper Ave. that’s become an extermination company. The building still has stained glass windows. The parcel of land still includes a little churchyard lined with rows of gravestones. The sign that used to announce worship times now advertises the pest of the month (e.g. bedbugs, silverfish, rodents, etc.). All of that makes the scenario even sadder.
The news article opened with a description of acrobatic youth getting their exercise in what used to be the Church of St. Joseph, a Roman Catholic sanctuary in the Netherlands large enough to hold 1,000 worshipers:
Two dozen scruffy skateboarders launched perilous jumps in a soaring old church building here on a recent night, watched over by a mosaic likeness of Jesus and a solemn array of stone saints.1
The picture of the interior showed wooden ramps and quarter-pipes where the pews used to be. The story hit even closer to home when I read that a former Lutheran church in Edinburgh, Scotland has become a “Frankenstein-themed bar” –
…featuring bubbling test tubes, lasers and a life-size Frankenstein’s monster descending from the ceiling at midnight.2
I’ll admit, I once enjoyed a lovely dinner in a sanctuary-become-a-restaurant in Ireland. Somehow, though, breaking bread and drinking wine in the Lord’s space doesn’t seem as much of a disconnect as skateboarding or disco.
The reason for the re-purposing of church buildings, of course, is the closing of congregations because of decreasing numbers. In many countries, parishioners are disappearing at an alarming rate. A study reports that in 2012 the percentage of Christians who said they worshiped weekly was about 5% in Denmark, 10% in Germany and France, 20% in England, 25% in Spain, 30% in the Netherlands, almost 40% in Italy, almost 50% in Ireland. We’re doing better in the U.S. than they are in Europe, but U.S. church attendance still fell 3% between 2000 and 2010. 172 congregations compose our NJ Synod of the ELCA, a number that is steadily decreasing as shrinking congregations close or merge.
So how do we channel the vitality of the Body of Christ? How will our faith family remain a Gospel presence in this world in the short term and the long term?? How do we proclaim the Good News of what God has done in Jesus Christ in new and compelling ways in this 21st century? On our watch, what do we do so this community is more apt to thrive, grow, risk, serve, endure, witness to God’s grace, now and after we’re gone?
That’s what our 20/20 Vision for 2022 is all about: not just looking back and celebrating the first 100 years of Holy Trinity’s Life Together, but looking around us at community needs so we are faithful in the present and looking ahead of us so we are visionary for the future. “Speak, Lord, Your servants are ready to listen.”
In a recent shipment from The Container Store I found a message from the chairman and CEO stating that the company’s goal is to run “a store that can change your life.” If a business that sells bags and boxes can voice that hope, shouldn’t the followers of the One who said He came that we may have life, and have it abundantly?? Part of our visioning and values process will be creating a fresh and concise mission statement, so simple that even the children will be able to remember and express it. It will need to convey our conviction that faith and involvement in a faith family can and does change our lives!
In February we’ll be preparing our annual parochial report to send to the ELCA. If you’re regularly present, and/or if you’ve read the annual bulletin of reports, you know that the numbers we forward and the ministries we describe will show that our congregation is robust. In a world where many sanctuaries are emptying out, our average number of worshipers is growing. Remembering that we are here for those who aren’t here yet will help us keep Holy Trinity’s doors open, and our minds and hearts open as well.
Think of someone you know who has no faith family. May the Holy Spirit give you courage to say, as Jesus said to Philip, “Come and see!” What do you find of value in our Life Together? Tell that person. You’re not imposing. You’re inviting. How does your faith help you hold onto hope, cope with frustration, endure sorrow, find wisdom, live a meaning-full life, serve soulfully, forgive graciously, love unconditionally, trust unwaveringly? Tell that person. You’re not blowing your own horn. You’re witnessing to the power of God’s grace. In a world where many spend much and travel far to find healing and peace, go on record: we receive those gifts free in Word & Sacrament. We don’t have all the answers, but we do have a Savior. So do they!
Grateful for our Life Together,
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham
1Naftali BenDavid, “Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale,” The Wall Street Journal (Sat./Sun., Jan. 3-4, 2015, A1, A8), p. A1.