“The legacy option,” the packet I was holding in my hands read, “is one of the most difficult options a church can choose to make. It means allowing one church to die gracefully, making way for something new.” Those were certainly hard words to wrap my head around when myself and the other members of the lead team met back in February to discuss the future of our church. It was a somber meeting, very fittingly held in the bleakness of a winter evening; and despite the cheery warmth of the home we met in the packets before us seemed to squash some of that familial warmth and demanded we make decisions – decisions none of us ever anticipated that we would have to make.
It seems like my church has been struggling for such a long time, and that it has been a series of complications endlessly streaming through the doors. It really should have come as no surprise that we found ourselves soberly sitting around the table trying to determine the future of a church that was clearly at a crossroads. Even knowing this didn’t make things easier. There is something that seems horribly wrong with closing a church, a place where so much good has happened – a place of faith and second chances.
Our packets of information detailed how the legacy approach was a noble, self-sacrificing path to take because it would mean giving up our roles and entrusting the care of the building and its future to another. I can’t speak for the rest of the team but I know that this sentiment felt hollow to me. It did not seem noble or self-sacrificing; it felt like a mixture of pragmatic sense and giving up. The reality was that many of us on the lead team had come into our positions of authority in a very unexpected manner, and felt ill equipped for what was now being asked of us. It felt like a relief to pass everything off to someone else, someone more capable – trained for the job. Yet, it was a very bittersweet decision to make.
It is a cliché but I have never been one for goodbyes; or, more specifically, things changing abruptly. Sure, there have certainly been times where I have happily waved goodbye to different stages of my life – but when the those changes are first hinted at I panic. When I was younger my parents would sometimes hold family meetings before bedtime. While I never had a horrible experience at these family gatherings I always entered them with trepidation. Why? Because I knew, I knew that they were going to change something…they were going to upset the balance of life as I knew it. It could honestly be something as simple as moving dinner to a different time, or the decision to not eat fast food for a month – truly very non-terrible things. Inner me would always be wailing, “noooo!” during these meetings, not because I directly disagreed with the decision but because the thought of the impending change filled me with so much anxiety.
The church’s congregation shared a similar sentiment when the lead team presented them with our decision. The inner wail of, “nooo!” was voiced through concerns of what would happen to this or that at the church, would all the church’s work be forgotten – would it cease to exist? By the time the lead team had come to make this announcement we had much time to discuss and process the decision we had made – and it seemed so final and necessary to us. It was a little jarring and frustrating to hear the congregants chafe against the decision we had toiled so much over. But were their concerns and sadness really that different from where we started? Goodbyes are never easy, and that is exactly what this announcement was the prologue to.
That is where I am grateful that the guidance we were receiving had titled one of their options the “legacy approach.” A legacy isn’t just strictly about goodbyes; a legacy is a marker for something that once was – for better or for worse. A legacy isn’t washing away a moment, but tucking it away in your heart to remember and cherish. A legacy can have a profound, personal influence on your life and that doesn’t disappear. The thing about legacies though is that not everyone will share those feelings, or even remember what you hold so dear. Perhaps that is the hard part to swallow in changes like these. Your special moments won’t be experienced or understood by new people. In a way it effectively ends with you, and I suppose there is this deep-seated fear that this makes your memories less valuable. Which isn’t true at all! So perhaps describing the “legacy approach” as a noble action isn’t too far off, there is a certain courage that comes with being willing to part with the tangible aspect of our memories, and allowing others to build room for their own.
On this past Sunday the lead team announced that the church would be effectively closing its doors in two weeks. Not to give up, but to make way for something new and entirely wonderful. I will always have those memories of a youth group so special and weird that I completely fit in, hiding the VBS mascot in the back stairwell, and a myriad of opportunities to grow in my faith in completely unexpected ways. While I would love for everyone to share in my special “Hallmark” memories I desire even more for them to experience their own profound and precious moments.
It has been an incredibly long winter season for my church – but when winter fades spring is just around the corner, and with it the promise of new life. A new chapter is beginning for a church that has been a home for me, and I’m excited to see what that means for the people to come, and the memories they will make.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
― Winnie the Pooh