“Look! I am doing a new thing…” (Isa. 43:19a)
Change never comes easy. And yet change is one of the only constants in our life. People come and go in our lives. We move to new places and begin new jobs. We raise our kids and they eventually move out on their own to live their own lives independent from our constant care.
And sometimes our beloved churches enter into a new season of ministry where the familiar things change so that new life can spring forth.
This past Sunday, Aldersgate United Methodist Church voted to enter into a new season of ministry as it will merge with Cokesbury and Speedwell United Methodist Churches effective in June 2016. This decision did not come without much discussion. Over the past few weeks there have been conversations in living rooms, small group meetings, and on Sunday morning during the Sunday School hour. People have asked questions, shared thoughts, and bore their hearts as we considered such a life-altering change. Even those who voted to support this change did so with a heavy heart knowing it would mean saying goodbye to many familiar things they have always associated with being a part of the church.
Needless to say, it was a bittersweet day filled with a variety of emotions. As pastor, I do NOT take it lightly that so many struggled with this decision. Likewise, I do not take it lightly how so many have stressed and worried about our future for so many years. Aldersgate has been in numerical decline for many years now. And financial resources are becoming more and more of a worry. The blessing of a great facility has become a double-edged sword as the building has become more and more difficult (and expensive) to maintain. I am grateful for the courage of so many who made the difficult decision to merge with these other two churches even when it means changing the ways we’ve always seen ourselves as the church. This church is filled with brave saints of God.
For those who do not know, let me share a little about this merger process and what we hope the end result will be.
The joining of Aldersgate, Cokesbury, and Speedwell will, in effect, create a beautifully diverse congregation made up of roughly 50% Caucasian members and 50% African-American members. The vision of a diverse and exciting worship experience will be led by laity and staff who reflect the beauty and diversity of the community. The move would bring Aldersgate and members from Speedwell into the building currently occupied by Cokesbury with the Aldersgate campus still being open for existing ministry (mostly mission) for the time being. Beyond that, there are many, many details yet to be determined and we have 10 months to live into this great change together.
Probably the most exciting (and scary) part of this change process is that these churches will be living into the meaning of resurrection. They will, in effect, be dying to what they have always known in order for God to raise them to new life in this new church. There is a lot of pain and joy that will accompany these next 10 months. And we will need lots of prayer. But I couldn’t be more proud to be the pastor of these courageous saints at Aldersgate who are electing to do something so wild, so risky, that it can only be described as the holy work of discipleship.
May we live the words the hymn writer offers as a gift of grace over these next 10 months:
“In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”