This used to be a church. This time last year people gathered here on Sundays and Wednesdays to study the Bible, sing hymns, hear a sermon, be church. But today it is being transformed into a parking lot. In a couple of years it will be filled with student cars as they make their way into the new East Cooper High School.
There is so much that could be said about this! We could sing along with Joni Mitchell about paving paradise and putting up parking lots!
It would be appropriate! There was a time when paradise happened in this church—or should we say in these churches. It has been the site of several. One moved to a larger facility, but the others… Well they just morphed from one to another until mismanagement, a congregation hanging on to the past, finances finally caught up. Now paradise will become a parking lot!
Or we could see this as another sign of what Robert P. Jones talks about in his new book, The End of White Christian America. We are living in a age of transition. The old majorities, the old ways of relating, of doing things, of doing church are changing. The result is a great deal of confusion, anger, grief. One result is the demise of many once thriving religious communities. It is estimated that 4,000 churches will close this year. And where will these people go? Well, some will migrate to one of the other churches within 2 miles of this site, but other will just become a part of the ever growing “unaffiliated.” Faith will be seen as something we “used to do.”
Or we could see this as the Spirit of God moving in strange ways. I am reminded of the old Fred Craddock story of serving as pastor of a church that refused to allow anyone who didn’t own property in that country from becoming a member. There were many new families moving into apartments nearby, tons of children. But the church refused to reach out. Years later he wanted to show that church to his wife, and as he drove up was surprised to see the parking lot full, lots of people milling around. Then he saw the sign. It said, “BBQ: All You Can Eat.” It was a restaurant! Fred and his wife went inside and the place was packed with all kinds of people—white and black and Hispanic. Rich and poor. Southerners and northerners. Craddock said to his wife, “It’s a good thing this isn’t a church anymore. If it were, these people would not be allowed in.”
It is hard to see it now, as you walk among the bricks and gravel, as you see the signs of what used to be. But maybe, maybe God is making room for people that the church won’t let in. Maybe God is going to do church in a different way.
Even in us. If we are willing.