As humans, we connect with places. I’m returning to a place that is very special for me: The Wesley Hospital. For many years I worked there as a Physiotherapist, and now I return, this time as a Chaplain. This makes taking the next step a ‘gentle leap’ for me, and I am so grateful for God’s guidance and provision!
Churches can also be comfortable places. Our memories of churches often relate to significant points in our lives. For some of us, these memories extend back for generations.
I’ve reflected on the idea of ‘place’ as I observed some LCAQD members deciding whether to close their congregation. They rightly ask how the mission built in one place might continue after a move to another place; or whether the people who connected with one place will find connection and care in a new place. We grieve when congregations decide to close. Without a clear view of the future, there can be anxiety and even conflict among those who have loved and cared for ‘their place’.
Over generations the make-up of all LCAQD congregations has changed, and it seems that congregations in rural and remote areas face the greatest threat to their viability. I see these as places where over decades Lutherans have faithfully invested time and resources to support the wider mission of the church. They are places that are less remembered and resourced than south-east Queensland in so many other ways. But I also notice shoots of new things, like ecumenical partnerships and house churches.
We connect with place. We become comfortable with place. We grieve when churches close, both because of the memories of what has been and the loss of what might have been.
Bishop Mark has spoken about liminal periods – in-between spaces and times when we know that what has been has now finished, but we can’t see what is ahead. It can be hard for us to imagine what is ahead for the places where we have traditionally gathered on Sundays; where we have established early childhood centres, schools and care agencies to serve those around us in Christ’s name.
How can we respond when we can’t see what is ahead?
One response is to give thanks to God, just as the Hebrew people repeatedly did (ref. Exodus 13:3). I like the hymn lyrics ‘Christ the Head of all Creation’ written by the late Dr Joe Strelan, because it begins and ends in praise to God, but also gives thanks for specific missional activities that have happened in that place. (I expect you can expand on those listed in verses 2 and 3!)
The words to the hymn are here: Sunday by Sunday Worship Resources (lca.org.au)/Minor Festivals and Other Days/39 – Consecration or Anniversary.
Wherever your place is in 2024, may God bless you richly.
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