Here's the church,
here's the steeple.
Open the doors,
see all the people.
First they sing,
and then they pray.
And then...
they quietly walk away.

South Bay Christian Church is closing its doors on Sunday, following a final worship service.

I want so badly to be there, but I cannot.

A few links and words.

A line from my first sermon in 2005:
I believe with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength that God has extravagant hope for the present and future of South Bay Christian Church. And I pray that each and every one of us can match God’s hope with our own hope for this community.

A paragraph from a 2007 sermon I preached:
South Bay Christian Church is not an unhealthy church, but we are still a church that is ripe for transformation. And I think the process of transformation has already begun. When I first came here, I heard a lot of apologies for the size of our congregation. Folks seemed sort of embarrassed that the pews aren't as full as they used to be. But lately, I've heard the murmuring of people wondering why there aren't more people here. That's a pretty significant change. But many members are recognizing that there is good stuff happening here. There is God stuff happening here.

An excerpt from one of my last sermons there, in 2010:
I've been spending a lot of time thinking about this congregation's history as we prepare for the 100th anniversary. This church certainly has its share of wonderful memories that are faithful to our Communion with Christ and one another, but it does no good to whitewash history and pretend that there haven't also been trials and tribulations, times when folks were anything but one in heart and mind. Some of you know that B.C. sent out letters to some former members and pastors requesting written memories to include in the program and displays. We received a lovely letter from Don Jarman reminiscing about his time at South Bay Christian Church. It was clear he loved the congregation and felt that he had been faithful to his call to minister here. But he spoke plainly about the manner in which his ministry came to a close. 

I will quote from his letter. "Because I did not try to convert people with my funeral meditations Foster Day called on me many times. The most heart breaking funeral I ever did was for Bernard B. He was a few years older than [my son] Mark. In fact Mark has visited the monument in Washington DC and found his name. A handsome young man from a good family, his grandfather Bill E. was a distinguished elder. After Bernard's death I took a personal stand regarding the war. Soon after I learned my tenure was in jeopardy, concluding nine plus years of ministry."

I don't know who remembers the circumstances; none of us on the committee who received the letter had ever heard this before.

There's probably another side to the story - but that's just it: when you have to take sides, you can be pretty sure you're not one in heart and mind.

Dr. Jarman's letter goes on to say this. "South Bay is a positive memory, truly God's church proclaiming the living Christ. I pray for you when I am at the Table of the Bread and Cup." And he ends with that beautiful benediction: "May the Lord Bless You and Keep you and make his face to shine upon you."

Now these words are a glimmer of hope, a spark of glory, in the midst of what might otherwise be a profoundly depressing sermon. There are so many ways for Christians to be estranged from other Christians. There are so many excuses we can come up with to justify our separation. They have bad theology, poor taste, misguided opinions. To break communion with them is to protect the sanctity of God's church, only as it turns out, the sanctity of God's church is broken whenever a single lamb is missing from the flock. The prayer of Christ reveals the heart of God: desperately longing for his children to put love before anything else. To care more about being in relationship than being right. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To be in Communion with one another, breaking bread that was given to us by Christ himself.

The letter I've sent for their Memory Book:
Dear Friends, 
It’s hard to believe that it has been more than three years since we made our farewells. As we suspected, we have felt at home in the Midwest. It’s been wonderful to be closer to family, and while I still don’t especially love winter, there really is something to be said for springtime after all those months of cold weather. 

As much as we have enjoyed settling into the Chicago area, the grief of leaving South Bay Christian Church has not waned. I miss you. I loved serving alongside you. It was an honor, a privilege, and a gift. My time at SBCC was formative. You deepened my faith and taught me how to be a pastor. And you cared for us! I will never forget the collective gasp of joy when I shared the news that we were expecting a baby, and Juliette couldn’t have had a warmer, more loving welcome than the one she received from SBCC. I’m sad that Genevieve doesn’t know you, and you her. She’s quite different from Juliette, save for their matching chocolate brown eyes. It has been a delight to reminisce about who gave us which baby blanket and onesie as she works her way through all of the hand-me-downs. 

Thank you. 

My heart has been heavy since receiving the news that SBCC will be closing. SBCC is such a remarkably faithful church. Not a perfect church, for there is no such thing. But faithful: yes. There is a part of me that simply wants to stomp my feet and shout: it isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that a congregation that is so hospitable, courageous, thoughtful, and loving should close its doors. The South Bay - the world! - needs churches like SBCC, humbly living out our denominational vision of true community, deep Christian spirituality, and a passion for justice. 

When I try to express my grief - to God in prayer, and to you in this letter - I keep returning to Paul’s words in the book of Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” I’m definitely feeling these Spirit-laden sighs too deep for words. It feels like a beloved friend is dying, and just as Jesus wept outside the tomb of Lazarus, I’m weeping in the face of this profound loss. 

Of course, we know what Jesus did next. He raised Lazarus from the dead. And it is completely impossible for us, as followers of a risen savior, not to reflect upon the closing of SBCC in light of the resurrection. We have always known that the only way to Easter is through Good Friday, just as the only way to a glorious Midwestern spring is through a bitterly cold Midwestern winter. I read in the Beacon that you will join your voices in singing that tear-jerker of a hymn, “In a Bulb There Is a Flower,” and all I can say is that I believe the good news it proclaims, and hope very much that you do, too. 

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; 

In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity, 
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, 
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. 

I rejoice with you for one hundred and three years of ministry at South Bay Christian Church: the thousands and thousands of loaves of bread broken and shared in the Lord’s Supper, the weddings and baptisms, the hymn sings, the retreats, the rummage sales, the potlucks, the compassion extended in times of loss and tragedy, the fashion shows (especially the rowdy one), the work days, the board meetings, the Sunday School classes, the AA meetings, the mission offerings, the bilingual services, the thousands and thousands of pancakes flipped and shared in the parking lot. And so much more. 

Well done, good and faithful servants. I love you all, and I always will. May God bless you and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you. 

May it be so.

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