I’m not a churchgoer, but it’s always been my understanding that church is supposed to be a place that helps people and brings them together.
But I have to admit I’m not seeing that these days when it comes to the United Methodist Church (UMC).
I’m frankly, quite disgusted with and angered by the potential closure of the Lakeville UMC, which has served spiritual and community needs for more than 180 years.
It reeks of injustice.
Based on the church members I’ve spoken with, the congregation feels hurt, betrayed, deceived and abandoned by the shepherds of the flock. They feel like nobody cares about them.
And I can’t say I blame them one bit.
As an outsider, it appears to me, the UMC is more devoted to its rules, procedures and bureaucracy than it is to people.
It also appears to me that maybe, just maybe, the UMC is more interested in the money that could potentially be made from selling the church and the parsonage associated with it.
I ran across a June 14, 2016 article in The Baltimore Sun about a court battle between Calvary Church in Hartford County, Maryland and the UMC. The UMC’s regional body, the Balitmore-Washington Conference, voted to close the historic, 195-year-old church in May 2014. The congregation believes the church property rightfully belongs to it and wishes to continue there independent of the UMC.
What was interesting was something that Deborah Kane, an attorney for Calvary Church, was quoted in the story as saying.
“‘The tactics from the United Methodist Church’ can be found throughout the country, of ‘coming in and closing thousands of little churches, selling the property and putting the money in their pockets,’” she said.
I certainly and truly hope that’s not what’s going on with the Lakeville UMC, but then again, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and evil is a good description of this terrible situation.
This whole thing should not be about what this paragraph in the rule book says or what that evaluation determined or even what makes good business sense.
It should be about one thing and one thing only – people. Specifically, a small band of older citizens who love their little church and want to keep it.
Sure, the congregation has dwindled in size and there’s a very good chance that once this current group passes away, there will be no one left to carry the torch.
Sure, the congregation is not as vital, viable and “outwardly focused and missional” as it once was or the UMC believes it should be.
But does that mean the Lakeville congregation should be kicked out of its home? Does that mean a community – and that’s exactly what this little congregation is – should be torn asunder?
Granted, Lakeville UMC is no longer an influential and active force in the overall community. But it is most definitely influential and active in the lives of the people who have worshipped there for year after year and decade after decade.
It’s the place where these people seek comfort and fellowship on a weekly basis. It’s the place where they connect with God. It’s the place where they feel like they belong. It’s the place that adds meaning to their lives.
I would say any church that does this for any group of people, whether it’s 20 or 2,000, is successful and deserves to stay open.
I look at the situation with the Lakeville UMC and I can’t help but distill it down to a group of older people who are fighting to hang on to something very dear to them. I, for one, can’t turn my back on them because too often in society, that’s exactly what we do to people as they age.
Your hair turns gray, you slow down a bit, you stop working and suddenly, you don’t have as much value as you used to in many people’s eyes.
You’re no longer listened to and respected. You’re at best, humored, and at worst, ignored. Some even view you as a target, easy pickings.
It’s wrong, but it happens.
I look at Lakeville’s aging congregation and I say put yourself in their place.
Little by little you lose more and more every day. Old friends and family members pass away. The places you used to know and frequent are gone. Your mind and body are slowly, but surely, betraying you.
Now, these outside forces want to come in and take your church away. These outsiders are telling you, you’re not doing enough as Christians, you’re no longer pulling your weight and as a result, it’s time for your little church to go away.
How would you feel?
If you don’t know, don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough when there are more years behind you than ahead.
The trouble with the world has always been not enough people try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
We don’t just need more compassion.
We need more empathy. We need more kindness. We need more mercy. We need more love for our neighbors.
I realize the UMC is governed by its “Book of Discipline” and it’s by no means my intention to belittle that text, but I really think the conference leadership should be consulting another book when it comes to what’s being done to the Lakeville congregation and how it’s being treated.