Today is a bittersweet day at the church in which I grew up, for this morning they are celebrating one last Divine Service in their current building, before observing the disposition of the Sanctuary, and then consecrating the Sanctuary in a new building later in the week.
Logically, I know this is a good thing. The larger worship space will allow the church to cut back on the number of services offered each Sunday, allowing more of the congregation to gather for worship at the same time. And while the building is changing, the congregation remains the same. The gathered faithful, the pastors and staff, they are still intact. Yes, there has been fluidity over the years–members, pastors, and staff alike have gone to their glory, or moved, or moved on, but the heart of the congregation, the commitment to the Gospel, remains the same.
Aesthetically, it’s also a good thing, a nice blending of the old, (in keeping and moving the stained glass from the old building), and the new, (such as a beautiful new font to remind members of their own baptisms, as well as for baptizing new believers). Practically, too, the change is beneficial–the church will now be able to hold pews with kneelers, which is a nice return to tradition, and kneeling will hopefully be seen as a meaningful addition to the worship service.
Most importantly, however, the Word and Sacrament will remain unchanged, regardless of where the worship is being held, (or even who the worshippers are!). The Word will be faithfully preached, albeit from a new pulpit, and the Sacraments will still be faithfully administered–again, from a new font and altar, but the Word needed remains the same, and the water and bread and wine will still be present, regardless of the location or the vessels.
My heart, on the other hand, struggles with this change. I was baptized in the old church; I was also confirmed and married there. I don’t think that many people can say that about one church anymore. So many memories from my childhood are tied up in that old building, as that is also where I attended school from grades pre-k through 8. Regular and holiday worship services, school opening and closing services, Christmas programs, weekly chapel services, my first Communion, Confirmation, 8th grade Graduation–these are all memories I cherish. I will always remember singing in the choir, playing handbells, and acolyting up in the front of that Sanctuary–my first introductions to serving in the church, even as a child.
Other memories, as I became an adult, are also intertwined with that church. VBS openings and closings, where I was finally a teacher. My father’s funeral service. The first Easter Vigil service I ever attended. More holidays and special services. My wedding rehearsal, and the next day, the wedding itself. Bringing my firstborn child to worship there for the very first time. These are also memories I hold close to my heart, and for which I thank God.
I am happy for the congregation that they are able to move forward into this new phase of the life of the church. I am thankful for the many members that gave of their time and money so generously, in order to glorify God and further fulfill the Great Commission. At the same time, I’m a little sad that I’ll never again worship in the church of my youth, that my children will never again have a chance to go back there and worship in the same pews as I did when I was their age, that the Word will no longer be preached from that old pulpit, and that the Sacraments will never again be administered from that font and altar.