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Listen while you read: "Are You Washed In The Blood"1 (Lyrics)
PART ONE – December 17, 2017
Esther 4:14 – If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this? (NLT)
Last March, we faced a difficult annual meeting for our First Presbyterian Church in Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. The elders appointed me as their representative to give the bad news to the congregation: We were going to run out of money at the end of 2017. We all knew that this was coming, but now we had to face it. We had been living off our investments for 10 to 15 years, and the end was in sight. The very large building that we occupied needed repairs that were too expensive for us. It was falling down, with peeling paint and a leaky roof, beside so many other problems. Our numbers had declined also, as our community was shrinking. Manpower was a big issue.
So, our big decision was whether to stay until the money ran out, or else move to a temporary home until we could give the property to a developer who would build us a smaller, manageable sanctuary for the price of the property that he could develop for his own use. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Visions of bulldozers taking down our precious church, which those before us had worked so hard to build, filled our minds. What about the beautiful stained-glass windows?
If we stayed, then we would be like Esther's family in today's Scripture, and the congregation would be no more when the money ran out. Were we the congregation chosen to act bravely and step out in faith, not knowing exactly what would happen? Were we here for such a time as this?
The idea of the congregation dying was very real and close to home. We had seen it happen to other Presbyterian churches in nearby Niagara and to congregations of other denominations within our own town. Some had made decisions either to keep their building and let go of the minister or just to close down and not exist at all. We had about 120 people on our roll at the time, and we all felt like a large family. None of us wanted to see this happen, but we had to face reality.
The vote was taken, and by a very large majority, it was decided to move to a temporary home and ask a developer — who was already interested — to take our church. We had decided to move on. We decided to stay together. The change had begun! The elders were directed to speak to our overseeing presbytery for authorization, and on we go! Can we do it? Only with God! If He wants us to continue to worship together, we will be successful.
As worshipping congregations, do we idolize our buildings? Do they stand in the way of our doing God's will?
Prayer: Father God, in such a huge change, we ask that You would guide and bless this congregation and other congregations that might be going through the same kinds of decisions. Give us all the courage and wisdom to discern the difference between worshipping a building and worshipping You. Amen.
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Thanks for a good word, Peggy.
Bravo Peggy. Onward Christian soldiers!
Well said. I hope to hear more of your journey.
Peggy – thank you for this devotional. I’m praying for you and your congregation.
Hi, your devotional is right on today. We have talked about many of the issues you raised.
A very difficult time but with God’s help, I pray it will be better in the future. You all are very brave and I am sure have asked for His guidance. I will pray for you!!
Good afternoon Peggy! Thanks for sharing the information. Looking forward to part 2 of your Devotional. Our Church was in a similar situation in 2013. My prayer is as you prayed. “We ask that You would bless this Congregation”. Thank you and all those who contribute and or make this ministry possible!
Hi, Peggy. I write this as a member of a church in B.C. We made the same decision to move on with God a few years ago. Our new building will have our church space, senior’s housing and market rentals is near completion. God will honour your decision to continue to be his witness in your community. Blessing.
Thank-you Peggy, for this thought provoking devotional. At times we struggle with circumstances that cause change to the familiar. As a senior, I have been mourning the loss and aura of a sanctuary, which for the past six years has been moved to a gymnasium.
Blessings abundant on your day today!
Thank you, Peggy, for sharing. Your story is so familiar and we are on the same journey. We have made decisions but I fear we are moving along on a similar course and pray for God’s guidance. It is always an upheaval when facing major change and so important to venture forth in faith as King George the 6th said in his Christmas message “Put your hand in God’s hand and He will guide you and that is better than the known way”. My prayers go with you all as you venture forth.
Hi – I well remember the Presbyterian church in Port Colborne, and I have preached there several times.
It does indeed hurt to think of that significant building being torn down, but we must face the facts. Please be aware of our prayers and best wishes as you go through a difficult phase of congregational life.
If I were younger I would love to be involved with you as you make this significant change
All the very best to you – please let us know how the change you are anticipating works out.
That is wonderful news.
We no longer have a church where I am. I was among a group who established a mission, when the congregation grew very small, working with children in this multi-cultural community.
It thrived but funds ran low, panic set in, and it was closed down, not by us.
In these times we need boldness, not fear. The Spirit will lead. That doesn’t mean easy!
Expect lots of hurdles. But keep listening to the Spirit. And all will work out.
I understand. We were part of a congregation worshipping the building, too.
God led some of us elsewhere and others wouldn’t let go. But a run-down building and taking from Peter to pay Paul does not reflect well on God.
If he wants us to stay he will provide. He promises to provide abundantly!
Praying for wisdom for you,
What a courageous and authentic decision your people made at that congregational meeting! So often we say, or sing, ‘the church is not a building … the church is the people’ but when the crunch comes, people will cling to the building even when it means the death of the congregation.
Thank you for sharing the very real struggle and pain of coming to that decision and for bearing witness to your faith in God’s faithfulness.
I know exactly what you were going through. Our denomination had to sell our church building also due to member decline and the upkeep of the building too expensive. It was decided to amalgamate with a local church, who had invited us to come and worship with them. It has been over five years now, and the newly formed church is thriving.
Back then, both of our congregations were wondering how it would work out, and with God in control, it was the best thing that happened. We no longer see each other as either Lutheran or Anglican, but rather as brothers and sisters in Christ, worshiping an everlasting God in a temporary building.
So many churches in that position. Oh! The anguish! But as a denomination, we have lost our way. Who knows the working of God in their lives? Who has experienced the reality of their own sin? Who has knelt before the cross in humble recognition of their own neediness? And received that forgiveness, that love, that peace, that joy that comes with giving our all to Him. Who has experienced that power of God, the Holy Spirit, moving and working in and thru them? Who has shared that faith with someone else? Who lives it out daily, telling others about the One Who came to save our souls from hell?
Not just in our denomination, but in many others, that fire is a dying ember. Cry out to God for renewal, revival, renewed or brand new faith. Oh! It’s become so long now about buildings and fund-raising. About history and memory. Where is our “home” supposed to be? Not here! Oh. Sorry. I’ve been a minister in the Presbyterian church for many years and it tears me up. We are not about our Master’s business! Bless you as you lead this congregation forward! I will pray for you!
Dear Peggy White,
I feel with you.
Our church in Manitoba closed for lack of membership before the turn of the 20th Century.
In 1925, the majority of the members had voted for church union (United Church). The remaining Presbyterians put up a brave front for over 65 years, but the community had changed. The population of the village had gone down. The farms had become large with fewer buildings. The village population rose again with immigrant families moving into the older houses, and having more children, but these families attend other churches of the area.
We need to pray not only for Presbyterian Churches but also for revival in the vast population of the world so the Word of our Lord God will be heard and believed in, and where our Lord Jesus will be known in all his crucified and risen glory.
I pray that God will bless all of you who are sorrowing and wanting the best for the church and the community.
It is all such a familiar story these days, not just in our denomination. and you make a good point about idolizing the buidings. I hear comments about their mothers being baptised there etc. etc. and indeed the building does become very important.
We had to build a bigger church because we did not fit in the 1938 building anymore. There were several people who had been involved in the 1938 building after the separation in 1925 and they were most reluctant to leave that building, they sacrificed for at the time.
Different reason, same feelings.
Just as an aside, the building was sold and the money used towards the big new building. The old church became a tearoom and then a small apartment building. It still says “Knox Presbyterian Church 1938” on the front, and sometimes tourists looking for the church go there on a Sunday morning. When I drive by there I often think of the good times we had there.
Thank you for writing.
Was looking forward to Part 2 about your church in 2017. What did you do?
I thank you for your honest and thought-provoking devotional. I am glad that your congregation has prayerfully decided to continue to serve God despite the understandable sense of loss that will be part of the change. Your point – do we worship God or our building – is so pertinent. We, here in the huge, rural district, can relate to what you have expressed. Ours is a mission ministry, to the Dakelh First Nation up in Quesnel and Nazko (3 and 4 hours north of here respectively) and to many tiny communities, separated by long distances, south from there to our area.
Ours is almost entirely a house church ministry, because many brothers and sisters in Christ, from various denominations and spread throughout this vast area, could not possibly support a scattering of large buildings, and would not otherwise have worship and fellowship together. It is our love for and faith in God through Jesus which unites us, as it does your congregation – that is indeed what is most important.
I pray that you and your congregation will sense clearly the Lord’s leading as you go through this period, as you keep your eyes “fixed upon Jesus” (Heb.12:2).
God bless you!