Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
On Sunday I attended the final worship service of Calvary Presbyterian Church. This is the first time a congregation closed online through Zoom. Although faced with several technical difficulties, Pastor Emma Holley did an excellent job. She used the children’s sermon, liturgy, and sermon to point toward lament and hope; sorrow and resurrection. The closing of a congregation is a time of nostalgia mixed with grief, sadness, and frustration. The decision to close doesn’t come easily. As Emma said in her sermon, “Our decision to close was not one we came to lightly. We discussed and we discerned, and we prayed; and then we discussed, and we discerned, and we prayed; and then we discussed, and we discerned, and we prayed some more. And somehow, out of all the opportunities and options we explored, we came together in affirmation that God was calling us to a different path.”
The technical term for closing a church is “the dissolution of a congregational ministry”. God’s church doesn’t close. Instead, the local ministry is dissolved into the presbytery and the local community like a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee. The sweetness and flavor of the congregation lives on in the life and mission of other local mission and ministries, congregations, and new worshiping communities.
Ordinarily the presbytery rushes to monetize the building of a dissolved congregation and uses the funds for other congregations and ministries. Calvary’s building will also be sold, but not right away. The presbytery wants to use the space as an incubator or springboard for new ministries and new worshiping communities. For the next three years, the presbytery will look for people who have a vision for the South County area and use the Calvary space to house meetings, gatherings, or other potential expressions of Christ’s presence in the community.
For example, the local high school currently uses the parking lot for cars during the school year. What if we could invite them into the building before or after school to fellowship and study using the WiFi of the facility? What if we could arrange events for them outside in the backyard of the church? What other intersections of the community can we use this space to build a new ministry for the gospel?
This is an experiment. We will continue to lease space to the Affton Presbyterian Church. After three years, we will sell the property, distribute the legacy investment to local missions, and dissolve the rest into the presbytery. Like any experiment, it may work, or it may not. But why not try something new? Why not attempt something bold in the name of Jesus?
As people of the resurrection, we are constantly looking into empty tombs for signs of life. We are only limited by our imagination as we seek to do new things in this community. We are not limited by our title of reverend or elder. God’s storehouse of imagination is open to anyone! On August 18 at 7:00 p.m. our New Worshiping Communities Commission will host a Dreaming and Discerning event for those who have a vision for new mission and ministry. Please contact Rev. Steve Matthews for more information. I look forward to seeing what God will do in South County, and in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy.
Rev. Craig M. Howard