Saturday's edition of the Akron Beacon Journal included an article (reprinted from the Cleveland Plain Dealer) that fired me up as I read it, and it still nags at me today. It was the sad story of the planned closing of Broadway United Methodist Church in Slavic Village. The 92-year-old church will be closing after Christmas. In some ways, that is just one more anecdote of the challenges facing the greater Cleveland area. Of course, church closings have become all too common around us, and they are always a tragedy.
However, what got me worked up were the quotes that implied the closing was inevitable or part of a natural cycle. Why has this defeatist attitude been allowed to flourish in recent years? Where would we be if past generations had seen shrinking congregations as a normal part of a cycle? The beautiful churches of Cleveland were built in expectation of a perpetual congregation, and the church as a whole has flourished for over 2,000 years! Why are so many leaders (clergy and laity) willing to accept defeat?
I realize that we face economic problems and that the city population has diminished significantly from its peak. But there are still plenty of people here, and the church can play an important role in rebuilding. We cannot simply convene for one hour on Sundays and ignore our broader responsibility to the congregation and community. Because of that belief, I found the more hopeful quote from the article to be the comment that change is necessary. As we see congregations and budgets shrink, as churches around us close, rather than wait for our own demise, let's seek out the lessons and opportunities to grow. So how can we adapt and grow at this time? How does the church stay relevant to the community? I have my own broad set of ideas and answers - and music is part of them, of course. I'm sure many of my readers have their own ideas too.
Maybe a first, small step is to volunteer in our own church, to attend the upcoming Vespers service, and even to invite a friend or neighbor to come along. Advent is a season of hope, not fatalism, so let's all do what we can to create a bright future for our church.