In this the first day of 2019, I would like to reflect on the last three years at United Riverside.
I have been going to this church since I was born… for 61 years. My parents were married in this church. I was baptized and was confirmed in this church. I would say I have quite a history with this church. I can remember when this church was packed. Every pew was filled. Congregants were mainly people from the neighborhood. My grandparents and great aunt and uncle were among them.
The neighborhood has changed since then, and so has our church. Specifically, our church has gone through quite a lot in the past three years. Everyone thought the church would close after our Music Director AND Pastor both announced they would retire on the same day! The Music Director had been with our church for as long as she could remember, and had certainly given more than most to the church. Our Pastor, had been there for 25 years, quite an accomplishment. But to have them both leave on the same day… Their plan was to close the church, as I believe they were sure the church would not survive with both of them retiring. Numbers in the pews were down, and money was dwindling, as in most churches you see today.
The remaining members were saddened, and had no idea where they would go. As we are the last remaining English Protestant church in Lawrence, there were no options but to go to another town. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except we all loved this church, and wanted to remain going here. One of the members of the church that had been studying religion, offered to step up and be out Interim Pastoral Leader. Perfect….so we can probably go without music until we find someone, right? Uhg….not so much. We were one Sunday without music and it was horrible. You have no idea how important music is in a service until you don’t have it! That Sunday, my Cousin had mentioned to me that she knew someone that might be interested, that she was connected with him on Facebook. She contacted him, and called me by 2:00 that Sunday, saying he said he would love to. I met with him the following afternoon, and…. we had a Music Director!
There is no question God was looking out for us! Our numbers were small, but we had everything in place to carry on. Since then, the parishioners remodeled the upstairs Parish Hall, with donations for new windows, paint and a new bathroom. A space that hadn’t been used for 25 years or so! Our vision was clear. To get the church building at 100% functioning capacity.
Now, we had to work on the service. The service had been the same for as many years as I attended. As we wanted to keep many aspects of the service as they were tradition, we wanted to vary the service by adding occasional inspirational short films and guest speakers for a different prospective. We already had the best music in the city, we just had to fine tune our service for today’s parishioners. Suddenly, our Interim Pastoral Leader decided to resign. We had been through this before, and everyone knew we would prevail. Just another bump in the road…
Our Music Director Brian had filled in for the Interim pastoral leader on the couple occasions he was unable to attend. He volunteered to fill in. Several church members also took part in the service with readings, etc. Brian not only incorporates today’s issues in with his sermons, he incorporates a humorous aspect, and yet instills the traditional bible teachings. My own mother just said to me the other day she likes Brian’s services more than “anyone” that has been in our church before! That is saying a lot since she is 91, was married in our church, and has been going here ever since!
So churches can turn things around. They just have to have people with a will to do it, the right Pastoral Leader as we have, make it as interesting as possible, so people will look forward to coming.
Being as small of a church that we are, we are still able and have for years, hosted AA meetings in our Parish Hall mornings 6 days a week. Our friends in AA have helped us in many ways over the years, and in turn, we hope we have helped them in giving them a home to have their meetings, that they can depend on.
As if we haven’t had enough drama, recently, our boiler for the Parish Hall died. It needed replacing and justifiably so, it was about 60 years old. Our friends from AA didn’t hesitate to step up with donations, and trying to help us anyway they could. Not 2 weeks later a steam pipe leaked in the Sanctuary that needed to be fixed. It never ends….
The moral of the story is, “God is there for you when you need him”. Let us not forget that. Just don’t make it only in times when something bad has happened….make it everyday! Make it part of your life!
I have never been prouder of the work that I and everyone at United Riverside has put in to keeping our church and God’s house open, so everyone has a place to worship God, and his wonderful work.
If people can’t see the wonder of God’s word, and that he takes care of all of us, especially with what we have been through… they just can’t see.
Happy New Year!