A few years ago, My husband and I visited a congregation we’d first attended nearly thirty years ago. We didn’t see many familiar faces – not that we would have recognized any of them. Thirty years is a long time, and people change. It is quite possible that a few of those folks from the days from when Flock Of Seagulls songs were in heavy rotation on the radio might have been sitting in the pew next to us during the visit. The majority of the people in attendance were middle-age or older.
The congregation seemed to have a “use by” expiration date stamped on their doors.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:23-25
This Scripture passage is usually used by church leaders, friends or relative to prod those who’ve checked out of church into re-upping. But after visiting the graying, non-reproducing congregation last week, I realize that it is entirely possible to give up meeting together even when you show up for a church service week after week.
I got the feeling that spurring one another toward love and good deeds had faded among this group to the intensity of a facebook poke (remember those?) before becoming just a memory. Some of the language used by both the pastor and the people with whom we chatted following the service gave us the impression that the memories of the good ol’ days felt as real as though they were happening @rightthismoment, instead of being bell-bottomed, Honeytree-soundtrack’d history.
I have no idea what this congregation may have tried over the three decades between our visits, but I could imagine that they probably may have attempted this, then that, then five other things, interspersed with a few intramural political battles. The day we visited, we sensed the comforting, nostalgic, sentimental coziness of the familiar shaped their small community in every way. On one hand, I’ll confess to envying the short-hand ease of relationships I sensed among the group. It was apparent many of them had been together for a long time.
On the other hand, I felt sad because this just ain’t the way it’s meant to be as we age in a church community.
Have you ever been a part of a sundowning congregation? What was it like? Did you stay or leave? Why?