Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hanging On To The Past

This is the small country church down the road from where I live. That could be all it is, one of many white clapboard churches that dot our countryside but two things make this particular church notable: 1) It is still open for bi-weekly worship services, and 2) It is my husband's family church.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Riverview, what my in-laws still call "the settlement", celebrated its 75th anniversary today and dedicated three gifts to its congregation. The "new" stained glass window at above the pulpit came from St. John's Presbyterian Church in Pugwash when it closed a few years ago; likewise, the organ came to this church as well. When St. David's Presbyterian Church in Springhill closed last year, that church gave its hymn books to St. Andrew's.
In 1939, when St. Andrew's opened after seven years of building (from scratch, the timber coming from my husband's grandfather's woodlot across the river), 600 people attended the opening celebration; this afternoon, the church was full but there was only 55 to 60 people in attendance.
Most of our rural churches are closing, their congregations shrinking because of a longtime trend in general for rural areas: A resistance to change. Those who grew up in this church in the 1940's and raised their children in this church in the 1950's and 60's want the church to remain the way it was then, including full of people. The same music, the same liturgy, the same order of service. It's so familiar and so comforting that way but this failure to adapt to changes in our culture and in our society means a failure to minister to new and younger people. With no new, younger members taking on the work of the church, the church dies with each death of its current, longtime members.
It's sad and it's a shame but it's reality. It's all about reality but most rural folks simply like to keep their head buried in the sands of the good ol' days. Denial keeps what is familiar and comforting alive.
Six families attend services regularly at St. Andrew's; that translates to about 12 people. Of those twelve, two are in their nineties; two are in their eighties; and two, maybe more, are in their seventies. The strong wills that have kept this church open all these decades are the same strong wills that have kept any change, any adapting, any updating from occurring.
It's sad and it's a shame but that's the reality of hanging onto the past so tightly, it squeezes the life out of a church.

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