When it comes to my personal life, I hate change.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a creature of habit. I much prefer the comfort and warmth of the familiar and the tried-and-true to the uncertainty of the unknown.
That’s why I have a lot of sympathy for the small, but scrappy, congregation of the Lakeville United Methodist Church (UMC) and its fight to keep the church doors open as they have been since the mid-1800s.
Following an evaluation of the church’s current viability and vitality, Lakeville’s 19-member congregation received a June 28 letter from its UMC district recommending it either merge with an existing congregation or discontinue itself.
In a nutshell, these two options were put forth because Lakeville’s congregation is very small, consists of an aging membership and just isn’t as active and outwardly-focused as the UMC feels it should be.
The news was heartbreaking to Lakeville’s membership. I’m not a churchgoer myself, but I can definitely understand and appreciate the sentimental value of having a familiar place to congregate every week with friends and neighbors.
Back when I was attending the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) in the 1990s, I frequented a little tobacco shop called Maison Edwards. I was there two, three, four times a week for hours at a time, smoking cigars and chatting with friends and strangers. It was my home away from home.
The shop has been there since 1963 and continues to plug along despite the best efforts of government officials and Health Nazis to make life difficult or shut it down.
While I was there, I felt a bond with not just the people, but with the place itself. I was a link in a chain. To be part of something older than oneself is a very gratifying feeling for me. It’s the same feeling I get from being part of a local newspaper that’s been around since 1898.
I still go back to Maison Edwards a few times each year. In fact, I just spent an entire day off there last week.
If I can become that attached to a little tobacco shop, I can only imagine how attached Lakeville UMC members are to their little church.
This is the place where they gather every Sunday to express their faith and enjoy each other’s company. This is their community within the community.
Beyond that, the church serves as their tangible link to the past. This is where couples were married. This is where babies were baptized. This is where funerals were held. This is where holidays were celebrated.
To suddenly lose that intimate connection would be very painful and disconcerting, especially for older people who have been part of the church for decades.
I can see why the members of Lakeville UMC are so upset over being directed to choose between merging and closing. That isn’t just a church, it’s their home.
And what is home?
It’s the place where we feel safe. It’s the place where we feel comfortable. It’s the place where we feel loved and accepted.
Home is the one fixed point in an ever-changing world. It’s the one place you can count on when everything and everyone else is letting you down.
To me, it would be a great tragedy if the Lakeville UMC was forced to close its doors after serving spiritual and community needs for generation after generation.
It would be a tragedy for the congregation.
It would be a tragedy for the community to lose this historic local institution.
It would be a tragedy for present and future generations to lose this valuable link to past generations.
When we lose these connections, people become “little better than the flies of a summer,” as the 18th-century Irish statesman Edmund Burke put it.
I call upon the Blue Water District of the Detroit Conference of the United Methodist Church to exercise some compassion, show some mercy and offer some empathy in this case.
Be guided not by books, rules, processes and evaluations, but by your hearts and your love for your fellow man.
Allow the Lakeville UMC to remain open and independent.
Let the members keep their home.