Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Did God change his mind?

About 15 years ago our congregation used to gather on a grassy, park like spot and worship, dreaming of a new church building. We met in small prayer groups seeking guidance, and the story I was told was that we didn't make a move until there was discernment for the next step. The new church opened New Year's Eve 2000 and filled up. One of the reasons it filled so quickly is that we had 6 or so services at the old building and we were encouraged to worship in the new facility to get some balance. For maybe two years, people sort of worshiped here and there, and eventually settled into one spot (traditional, contemporary, and x-alt). People settled according to 1) music tastes, 2) where friends and family were worshiping, 3) which preacher was where, and 4) time. Then it seems God spoke again because we absorbed yet another facility, Hilltop Lutheran, which was struggling but had an excellent physical plant. Again, prayer, meetings, discernment. Yes, God wanted us to have an urban witness. Another group relocated to help populate that church.

I've sort of lost track--I think in 2006 we had 11 services, in 2007 10, and now maybe it is 9. But our original plan to be one congregation (whisper: mega-church) with three campuses has been difficult to manage. The first split I noticed was the choir, which the first few years served both buildings (bussed across the river). Then the traditional service at Mill Run was so poorly attended it was dropped, so those people had to shift back to Lytham, if they wanted liturgy. But some never returned and just changed to a different worship style. Meanwhile, Lytham started losing people, even those who lived near by, because adult children and grandchildren were worshiping at Mill Run. Then an x-alt service was added and it is always crowded with people who like that loud, thumpy music.

Now it's fall 2008. Someone on the staff, not sure who, has decided instead of one congregation we are now 9 (or 10, not sure) worship communities. Since we were told years ago that we'd been called to be one kind of church, this has left us scratching our heads on how to do this. There weren't any meetings on the grass or big prayer meetings, that I know of. But maybe something was happening when we were at Lakeside during the summer.

Instead of rotating the pastors from pulpit to pulpit, we will now all have a traditional arrangement. Everything will have to have a service and pastor behind it. Sort of like a town of 4,000 with 9 churches whose members wave on the corner, or at the store, who have Bible school together, and occasionally cooperate for a project.

We've been in the Visual Arts Ministry for nine years, our 10 members all attend different services and we hang shows at 2 locations; I'm in Women of the Word, which has about 5 meeting times in 2 locations--its the only thing I do regulary at Mill Run although I worship at Lytham; my husband is in the Haiti ministry which draws its volunteers from all services; the food pantry and clothes closet draws from all the services, as does the Highland school volunteers; our SALT (couples Bible study) has 8 couples attending 4 services; the advent and lenten services meeting at both locations, so we don't even see each other for those smaller gatherings; Bible school draws from all services and also other churches; Sunday school times are usually between services, so I'm assuming they draw from both. Frankly, we don't actually know very many people in the service where we worship, now we feel doubly shut out, yet this is supposed to be "our church." When we see people we know in the narthex, they are often going in to the next service and we stop and chat a few minutes.

This feels like an unwanted, unasked for divorce from our congregation.

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