“You are not equipped.” The preacher seemed to be looking straight at me. Across the worship space, in this room festively decorated in red and filled with the heady scent of flowers, I could see some uncertain faces. In a few minutes, we would go forward to be ordained as Lutheran pastors. Yet as the preacher set before us the charges of ordination, he continued to follow each one with the same stark pronouncement. “You are not equipped.”
My last sermon at Covenant Baptist Church was on February 7, 2010. It was 20 years after the first sermon I preached for our community. I was the youth minister at the time, and the pastor was away. The only memory I have of that first sermon is a vague one. In my mind I can see the Duckblind Lounge, where we were meeting at that time.
When I arrived as pastor at Beech Grove United Methodist Church, the community was bitterly divided because one member was running against another to be county commissioner. The primary issue in the campaign was whether to zone Beech Grove Road, on which sat Beech Grove Church. Issues of class weren’t far behind.
From Britain to Denmark, Europe has hundreds of empty churches. The closing of a church is painful—especially in villages where the church for centuries served as a community anchor, even for unbelievers. Efforts are often made to adapt the buildings for a community service, such as a library. Because they are very expensive to maintain, empty churches are more frequently turned into some kind of commercial endeavor. The Church of St. Joseph in Arnhem, Netherlands, still owned by the Catholic Church, has been turned into a skate park. The Netherlands has the largest number of idle church buildings. Roman Catholic leaders in Holland estimate that within a decade two-thirds of their 1,600 churches will be closed, and 700 of the country’s Protestant churches will likely close over the next four years (Wall Street Journal, January 2).