As I write this, it’s raining. It’s chilly out, and tonight, the temperature will drop to around 55°.
Not too long ago, the sweltering heat and humility were killing me. It seemed I had to run my window air conditioners non-stop. I felt especially bad for my poor dogs. Lugh is the Siberian Husky, and Loki is a German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix. Both are snow dogs at heart. The 90° weather drained them. My poor boys.
But, now that it has cooled off, they have been revived. They have a lot more energy. Neither is thrilled with this rain, but they love this cooler temperature.
The seasons are changing. The hot summer is behind us, and we’re moving into fall. Last spring I watched new life appear on the trees as green leaves began to sprout. I watched them reach their full potential in the summer. And now, I see brown leaves scattered across the green grass as we head into fall. Indeed, the seasons are changing.
Meanwhile, the church I have been doing pulpit supply in once a month is also experiencing its own change of season, only this time it is in the life cycle of a congregation. In October Atonement Lutheran Church in Beloit Wisconsin will celebrate its ministry one last time before they close the doors of their large stone building.
Like many large churches, Atonement Lutheran’s heyday was in the 50s and 60s. Christmas and Easter used to require bringing in folding up chairs for extra seating. The members who still attend love to talk about those good old days. As they speak, you can tell they miss the children running through the hallways. They miss the excitement.
So, what went wrong? That’s the natural question to ask when we see a community in decline like this. After all, this used to be one of the places to be on a Sunday morning. Now, only a handful of people wants to attend. So it’s easy to ask that question, “what went wrong?”
But do we ask that question when summer turns into fall? Do we ask what went wrong when fall turns into winter?
What if the answer to “what went wrong” is “nothing”? What if this is just the life cycle of communities? What if it is natural for human communities to emerge, flourish, and then diminish in order to make room for new life?
If this is indeed the case, it has significant implications for the church as a whole. Maybe, rather than focusing on the loss of yesteryear, we need to be asking ourselves, “what might this new life that is meant to emerge look like?”