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.