A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Monday, January 28, 2013

An annual report on a church's final year

A few months ago, we asked ourselves whether or not we needed to go to the bother of annual report books this year, months before we close our doors. In the end, we decided to go ahead and get this done, one more time. Not for our own sake, but in order that our experiences are recorded for the sake of those who will come after us. I think, in particular, of other churches who will walk along a similar path in the years to come. So I direct my report this year, not so much to our present congregational body, but to those folks who might think to read our testimony as a guide on their own congregational journey with decline and demise.

For the record, this is my personal take on who we are and how we are doing here at Bergthal Mennonite as we face into our final few months….

We are a weary body. Our feet are dragging. We work to summon the energy needed to complete our final tasks. For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been increasingly aware of my own declining energy reserves, my reluctance to take on new initiatives, my desire to keep things simple. I see my own responses mirrored in the collective body. We are all tired.

We are a grieving body, full of emotions that simmer at the surface and often spill over in tears. We are impatient, sometimes frustrated and angry, we are nostalgic and regretful. We feel a bit weighed down by the hard decisions we’ve needed to make. Mostly, we are sad.

We are a courageous body, willing to face into our present reality and do the work set before us. Our refusal to entertain denial and our determination to be intentional about our ending has drawn the attention and interest of our regional denominational body, resulting in invitations this last year for me to share our congregational story, first at our annual assembly last summer and again at a gathering of Mennonite churches this fall. Our desire to be proactive is transforming our very personal experience into a model other churches will continue to learn from. I often talk about us making things up as we go along. This has been a very poorly lit path to try and follow. Too often, we’ve needed to make our own way. But our resolve is lighting the way for others, yet another legacy Bergthal will leave in its wake.
We are an inclusive body that places a high premium on communication. An unspoken goal these last few years has been to keep us all together in this time of discernment and action. Since we all process life events at a different pace and at radically different angles, this has required many different times and places of communication. This fall, feeling like we needed to pick up the pace, we split ourselves into three overlapping work groups - even more opportunities to sit and talk and process together. And while we read at different rates of speed, still, for the sake of group unity we have agreed to keep ourselves, as much as possible, on the same page, turning together, for the sake of good communication.

We are a body that loves each other very much. Enough said.

We are a living body. Let me count the ways as I look back over the last year: pies and pennies collected for the MCC Relief Sale; a glorious Easter morning egg hunt; support for our own Don and Marie Gaeddert, teaching in China with Mennonite Mission Network; a wedding in June and a child dedication and adult baptism just a few weeks ago; 15 quilt tops laid out and sewn together through the hot months of summer, over 1,000 school kits for MCC packed in September; a well attended ice cream social in the fall, a community Thanksgiving meal and service hosted at Bergthal. And the next several months offer many more life giving experiences as a church. We have been very intentional about approaching our death. We have been just as insistent on being, not a dying congregation, but rather a living congregation right up to our very end.

We are a diverse body who understands and experiences God in a myriad of ways. And yet, together, we are a people of faith who come together each Sunday morning to center ourselves on our sacred common ground - to listen for the voice of God in our lives; to offer each other and God our concerns, our joys, our gratitude in prayer; to sing our questions, our hopes, our praises. We are a people of faith who love God, who love the church, who love each other.

And so, in our own unique Bergthal way, we recognize ….
“….our life being poured out as an offering and the time nearing for us to be gone. We have fought the good fight to the end; we have run the race to the finish; we have kept the faith; all there is to come now is the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give on that Day; and not only to us but to all who have longed for God’s Appearing.”               (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

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