Archive for ◊ October, 2010 ◊

Author:
• Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Post by
Gretchen Switzer
Authors of “Finishing With Grace”

A remarkable thing has happened at my church!  Coincidentally, while Linda and I were writing our book about church closings, the congregation where my family and I hold our membership, United Congregational Church of Worcester realized we could no longer sustain the gigantic, Gothic church building we loved with only 30-40 people coming to church on Sunday morning.  The expense of heating and maintaining the building,  a full time pastor and support staff was overwhelming.  However, our congregation did something pretty unusual — we faced the problem early enough that we could faithfully manage what was to come.  After three years of a discernment process, we decided, unanimously, to give our building away to the Worcester Area Mission Society (WAMS), the local area mission-arm of the Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ, along with a significant portion of our 5 million dollar endowment.  We were pleased and proud that even though our ministry may end or at least become smaller, our resources would provide a whole new level of ministry in our home town of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Once we had agreed to give away most of what we had  and gave our future over to God, it was agreed that our small congregation would now worship in a small chapel  in the building.  The new owners of the building, also gave us use of the parlor adjoining the chapel.   In the small chapel, we fill the place with people and music.  We worship in closer physical proximity to one another, so  worship has taken on a deeper personal aspect.  We are more involved.  We have stayed faithful. But little did we know what God had in store for us.

A short time after we moved to the chapel, we started getting new visitors almost every week.  Not only that, but these visitors have kept coming back over and over again, bringing friends and family members with them.  Our new friends are quickly becoming valued members of our community.  We have garnered new energy and new creativity, as well.

Is this what God had in mind all along?  Because we have acted faithfully and given generously,  might our future look quite different than we imagined a few months ago?  Or, are people attracted to a congregation that lives out its faith  in the worst of times, and makes the very best they can out of a difficult situation?  I believe the answer to both questions is “YES!“

When we finally gave it all up to God, we began to be blessed  in new and marvelous ways.

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email  Gretchen

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Author:
• Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Post by
Linda Hilliard and Gretchen Switzer
Authors of “Finishing With Grace”

Welcome to the Seasons of Grace Blog.   We are Linda Hilliard and Reverend Gretchen Switzer and our new book “Finishing with Grace: How to Sell, Close or Merge a Church” has just been published!  We have established this blog to connect with our readers and further explore the dynamics of congregations throughout their lives. This blog is meant  to reach  church folks around the country as we reflect on the many issues that arise for all of us as church members trying to be faithful.  Thanks for joining us!

WHO ARE WE?

Linda was moderator of Grace Congregational United Church of Christ in Framingham, MA and is a past chair of the Committee on Ministry (MA).  Linda is an editor/writer who owns her own  communications  business.   Gretchen has twenty-one  years experience as a United Church of Christ pastor.  Eighteen of those years, she was an Intentional Interim Minister specializing in churches-at-risk  and  she was the  interim minister at Grace Church.   Gretchen also has training in church growth  and served on the Church Development Committee for the Ohio Conference, UCC.

Several years ago, when Grace Church faced the difficult task of selling its building, we often said, “If only there was some kind of handbook that we could use to make this easier.  Finishing with Grace  is that handbook.

Thousands of churches close yearly, affecting tens of thousands of the faithful.  Reasons for church closures run from aging congregations to conflict, from dwindling funds to  pastoral betrayal.  Such churches need help determining how to proceed.

Finishing with Grace chronicles the process of making life-altering changes in your congregation and provides guidance for approaching the  practical, spiritual and emotional aspects of having to sell, merge or conclude your church‘s ministry.  The purpose of this book is not to advocate the closing of churches, but to teach congregations who are without other options how to move through this time faithfully.  This book will be helpful to any church who is in major transition.

Here is an excerpt from our book:

” You are not alone.  There are many like you who know exactly what it feels like to love your church and see its demise on the horizon.  The emotions that this realization can evoke within us are often more powerful than we anticipate.  The ending process is fraught with meaningful memories of family and friends.  “This is where we had little Jimmy’s funeral.”  “I remember every moment of Samantha’s baptism here.”  “I always dreamed of getting married in this sanctuary.”  Many of us grieve the loss of our community of faith as deeply as we might grieve the death of a dear, deep friendship.  The potential loss of our church home can also cause our  faith to waiver a bit, no matter how strong it really is.  “How could God just abandon us?  “Why did God allow this to happen to us when we have tried so hard to be faithful?”  There may be anger toward God and there will be anger toward those we believe “caused” the problem in the first place, whether that was an unskilled, unaware or abusive pastor, a lousy or dishonest treasurer, a money-minded bishop or that bunch of folks whom we see stubbornly holding the church back from moving forward…”

Here’s what one of our readers said:

“I just finished your book. I loved it! What a fantastic job of addressing every single issue that is involved with such an emotion-fraught, tension-fraught, detail-fraught process!  This will be incredibly helpful to congregations considering this possibility, and will, in fact, give them the tools they need and the courage to go through this process.  You lead a congregation step-by-step through every detail of this process, as well as naming the deep emotional layers, both conscious and unconscious.  I especially love the stories and anecdotes – both real and useful. You describe how to talk about everything and creative ways to deal with the wide variety of responses to this “earth-shaking” and “faith-shaking” decision – and how it may even deepen faith.  The memory-keeping ideas are terrific.  Lovely, fantastic job! ” Reverend Terry Fitzgerald, Pastor, United Congregational Church United Church of Christ,  Worcester, Massachusetts.

Watch this blog for

• updates on responses to Finishing with Grace

• our views on  the joys and frustrations of church life from beginning to end

• our personal perspectives from the pew and the pulpit.

• an announcement of our plan to launch an exciting newsletter for congregations.

Thanks!

To Purchase “Finishing With Grace” click here

Click here to email Linda and Gretchen

Category: About The Book, Church Closings  | Comments off