- Hearing that my home church was closing, I was filled with sadness. But as I reflected on how the congregation had nurtured me, I recognized a “God moment.”
- St. James United Methodist Church provided the building blocks of a Christ-centered life.
- The church’s legacy lives on in its living stones – those whose lives it shaped.
One recent Sunday, minutes before I went to weekly worship, I learned on Facebook that my home congregation – St. James/Solid Rock United Methodist Church, Olney (Philadelphia) – was closing its doors. Down here in southern Delaware, the otherwise blue-skied, sunny morning clouded with sadness.
The appointed Epistle reading was from 1 Peter 2:2-10, NRSV, a text generally regarded as a sermon to the newly baptized. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, that by it you may grow into salvation. … Come to him [God], a living stone. …”
I found my eyes welling up with tears, feeling that certain chill up and down the spine that comes with a “God moment.”
The tears were both of grief for loss and gratitude for growth. The church that was the place of my baptism and Christian formation – Sunday school, youth group, bazaars and covered-dish suppers, college and seminary scholarships, endorsement for ordination, my wedding (to a youth group member!) and family funerals – gifted me with the building blocks of a Christ-centered life, crafted in the fruits of the Holy Spirit to be an instrument of the way of Jesus in the world.
At St. James Sunday school, I learned to sing, “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people.” St. James is US – named, claimed, adopted, chosen and sent to be living and abiding sanctuaries, overflowing from those big red doors to be the life of Jesus in the world.
During the 70-plus years of my lifetime, nine people nurtured by St. James entered ordained or consecrated ministry. They included one United Methodist bishop, two district superintendents, one of them eventually a general secretary (me) and seven other United Methodist elders, as well as a Presbyterian, a Baptist, a Salvation Army regional officer and a member of a Roman Catholic order.
Legions of others went forth to serve as Sunday school and VBS teachers, youth group advisers, church musicians, choir members, congregational leaders such as church council members and trustees, Volunteers in Mission and other community outreach program leaders.
As an Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference district superintendent, my role was to lead congregations to decisions about viability and to craft resolutions to the conference about discontinuance. My heart ached then and is more acutely empathetic today. But Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 teaches us, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.”
I write these words not glibly but boldly, with faith and hope greater than defeat and despair. St. James goes forward not as one that dies, but because we are living stones, as one going forth to live.
A prayer from our United Methodist Service of Death and Resurrection comes to mind: “Eternal God, you have shared with us the life of St. James UMC. For all that St. James has given us to make us who we are, for that of St. James UMC that lives and grows in each of us, and for that of St. James’ life that in your love will never end, we give you thanks. Comfort us in our loneliness, strengthen us in our weakness and give us courage to face the future unafraid. Draw those of us who remain in this life closer to one another, keep us faithful in service and bring us to know that peace and joy which is eternal life.”
I am grateful for “pure, spiritual” nurture, the mother’s milk of my home church. I am blessed to be a living stone, growing day by day into salvation beside all of you. May our lives and discipleship be worthy of the awesome foundation upon which we have been built. Thank you, St. James. May your legacy continue.
Day is a retired pastor and former top staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History residing in Lewes, Delaware.
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