Thursday, October 23, 2008

Funeral For A Church

This past weekend I attended a funeral for a church. I was even introduced as a special guest because I had served as Youth Pastor and Chrisitan Education director for two years from 1982 - 1984. There were three parts to the funeral. On Saturday 250 previous attenders were invited to a reunion sit down dinner. The second part was on Sunday morning. We were all invited back to the church that has now been sold for a final worship service. The third part was a catered picnic at Saguaro Ranch Park. We celebrated our memories of First Baptist Church of Glendale. We said our goodbyes to those memories and went away with a sense of closure.

I had envisioned that the death of a church would include a wrecking ball smashing through the roof of the auditorium. That is not happening. The church will still be there. My old office is still someone's office. The field is there were the youth played kickball. There is a new sand volleyball court in the middled of the education buildings. Cooper Hall now has a soda machine. There is a new sound board installed instead of the little amplifier in the claustrophobic closet. The building is well maintained. I thought it was even "pristine" until I looked a little harder. The sanctuary is on the small side - seating about 250 but its laminated beams and light oak ceiling is still quite impressive. There is a drop down screen but it is hard to imagine how the front could be modernized for projectors. The death of the church had nothing to do with the buliding.

Maybe the death of a church means that all the people would lose a sense of their spirituality. Or maybe they would realize how wrong they were and repent. The lampstand has been removed. I remembered a lot of their names. They also remembered me. There were a few people who weren't there that I hoped would be. Some were there who I did not want to talk to. Some I was excited to see. Their lives are complex like mine. Some have kids who no longer serve Jesus. Others have had many years of great ministry experience. Sonja and her husband are planting a church! Lots of divorce. None to speak about. The death of our church is not a indictment on our spirituality. We have all moved on long ago and found other places to worship and serve.

Then I thought that there may be an ugly racist side to this death of the church thing. We aren't them. When they take over the building, it is proof that what we had is no longer there. But that is not what happened at all. The church was sold over two years ago. The leaders and assets that were still First Baptist of Glendale moved out to Surprise to form Harmony Church. The thing that really died was a non-profit corporations. The assets needed to be distributed. There would be two parts to the distribution of about $600,000. First, establish a scholarship fund at Southwestern Bible College. Second, throw a party. Wouldn't be great if there could be a final worship service at the old building? Let's rent it. Extra income for them; a break in the pastor;'s preaching schedule. Everybody wins. No, there is no insult there.

I was a blip in a 100-year history. The golden age was before me. The real struggle happened after me. I was one in a long line of short term associates. My only significance was that I accepted the invitation and showed up. There was the usual disapointment that I had left the ministry. And the usual admission that what I do now is like ministry. Most don't know why I left. Why should they? I did not tell them about the meeting when I was told to leave. I led a Sunday School class of young adults and bult it into something good. But they remember their friends in the class mosts. As they should. The youth group was starting to meld into a ministry force but they remember the trips before and after that acutally happened, not what could have been.

I was really young in the pictures! I could do things then I am not sure I could do now.