Reflections on Aging Well

Author, Living with Purpose in a Worn-out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults (Upper Room) and Columnist, Aging Well, United Methodist Reporter

When church doors close November 1, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — missybu @ 2:30 pm

 A few days ago I went to visit my 83-year old aunt who is in rehab following a fall. When I popped my head in the door, I realized she was already engaged in a serious conversation with a longtime friend from her church. It didn’t take long until I was drawn into their dilemma.

Their small United Methodist church was closing, perhaps merging with a larger church, and they were terribly concerned about what would happen to their Sunday School class of older adults. Interestingly, not all of the older adults had been longtime members of this particular congregation. Several had migrated to this UMC after an emotional upheaval at their former UM congregation about eight miles away. Now my good-natured aunt and her friend were discussing their options. Mostly though, they were heartsick, caught in the middle of yet another disappointing situation.

Their current church is picturesque and quaint, tucked into a quiet neighborhood in large city. Within a two-mile radius, you can find a mixture of million-dollar homes, ranch-style remodels and quirky little bungalows, many set among huge trees and on oversized lots. Even more importantly, there is a blend of young families, retired folks and super-cool urbanites who call this area home.

At first glance, the demographics would seem to support a thriving church. It’s not a dying neighborhood. Yet the church is dying.

It is tempting to vigorously bounce around the how-comes. Was it conflicting tastes in worship styles, a lack of fresh thinking or leadership? I don’t know. But what I do know is that a closure of a church is especially hard on older adults who suddenly find themselves adrift in a sea of uncertainly at a time when their options are decreasing.

For some like my aunt, it is upsetting to think about having to venture farther away from home to attend yet another UMC, especially if it requires navigating highways or unfamiliar roads. Even in merging with another congregation, there are important logistical issues for older adults to consider.

Closing a church’s doors is a dreadful but sometimes-necessary assignment.. I don’t envy anyone involved in making those tough decisions. But I do worry greatly about those, like my aunt and her friend, who are left in the wake. May we all be sensitive to their feelings and needs.

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3 Responses to “When church doors close”

  1. Having learned this week that the small congregation I pastor has decided to close, your comments were very appreciated. We have two congregations. The main congregation is a group adults – not quite yet senior citizens. The other congregation is a group of seniors. As your post notes, it may be this second congregation that will be most effected by the closing or our church.

  2. I echo the above comment. I too am pastor of a congregation voting to close it’s doors. The average age of my parishioners is 75 and this concern of where they go next is foremost on my mind. Some have been members since they were 2 years old, and they are now 78. Hard transition at such a hard age to make it. I am sharing the congregation’s story in this blog: http://lettinggowithgraceandhope.blogspot.com/
    because of your last sentence in your post, that it’s a hard ministry to go through. There are not many books written on closing congregations – let alone the pastoral care that has to go into the process. Thank you for reminding me again how important it is that I stay connected to the feelings of my older members through this process.

  3. I posted my original comments two years ago – I suppose it might be valid to follow that comment with the actual events that followed the closing of our church in December 2009.

    The smaller congregation of senior adults has continued to meet weekly. Our attendance goes up and down – with our stated mission being “A place to worship when you cannot get to your church home” we find that attendance goes up during the winter when it is most difficult for the older population we serve, who live and worship at a senior living complex, cannot get out. They are grateful for the opportunity to gather and worship each Sunday.


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