I knew it would be difficult, but didn't realize how hard it would hit me. I've sung Blessed Be Your Name dozens, probably hundreds, of times, but I almost couldn't make it through the first verse this morning. This was the first Sunday since our church closed its doors, the first Sunday in more than 25 years that I didn't hold the title of Worship Leader, and that the church we've attended our entire married life (30+ years) was not there for us.
Our church was dissolved at the end of last Sunday's service. There were many contributing factors, but the primary ones involve time, personnel, and money. A classic example of letting the 80/20 rule run for too long in an organization. Our pastor retired, and we realized that even if we could afford to hire his successor at market rates (which we couldn't) we didn't have the lay-leadership to keep the place running and form a pastor-search committee.
We worked with (and are continuing to work with) the Seattle Presbytery (the next rung up from our congregation in the denominational hierarchy) to bring things to a close. As the Worship Leader, I worked with the guest preachers that the Presbytery arranged for us, and filled the pulpit myself a couple of times. The final service was on the 62nd anniversary of the congregation's chartering.
This weekend we decided to visit our Son and Daughter-in-law near Portland, and attend church with them. I figured that, with no responsibilities it would be a relief to just attend a service. Yesterday, on the way down from Seattle the first inkling hit me that it might not be that mentally simple. Be Thou My Vision came up in the MP3 shuffle, and I found myself reacting: "hey, we haven't used that one recently, I ought to include it in the playlist sometime soon...oh, wait, never mind..."
Which brings us to this morning. The opening song was one I'd done countless times with my congregation. And the words were fitting: We need to be praising the LORD even when we are in the desert place, even when the road is marked with suffering, but that doesn't mean that our voices won't get choked up along the way, that we'll be barely able to squeak out the words. As we hear in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to laugh and a time to cry, and this morning I was much closer to the latter than the former. I was glad, in a way, that I wasn't all that familiar with the other songs in the morning's setlist. I was able to focus on learning them without having memories pop up about them. It was also a relief to not have the responsibilities for the mechanics of the church service on my shoulders for a change, but the emotions were always there bubbling just under the surface.
We're going to be attending a church for the next couple of weeks that I'm referring to as a "neutral site." They are not on our list of places that we're likely to end up at permanently, but we have no theological issues with them. I am realizing that we need to allow ourselves to grieve the loss of our former congregation before we just jump into a search for a new one.
Please keep our family in your prayers as we continue the business of shutting down a church, and also start looking for a new church home.