Yesterday, on Sunday, January 28, 2018, the church that I was raised in held it’s very last service. For years, the attendance has been declining, so the session (church board, for you non-Presbyterians) and the congregation decided it was time to close the doors. And yesterday afternoon was the very last service.
It was an incredibly difficult day. I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained in this church. So many memories of my childhood are wrapped up in this congregation – the building and the people. During the service yesterday, there were a number of former pastors participating as well as 3 women raised up by the church (myself included) who are now ordained and serving the church in various capacities. Each of us was asked to speak for 5 minutes on our memories of The Presbyterian Church of Le Sueur. I basically cried my way through my reflection, but I wanted to share the words. Because even though it’s now closed, this congregation deserves it. So here’s my reflection:
“Our lives begin before our lives.”
A friend recently posted this on Facebook as she reminisced about a beloved grandmother who had just passed away. It was her way of honoring how the life that came before her – her grandmother’s life – molded and shaped and blessed her own life.
Our lives begin before our lives.
That’s a powerful sentiment for me today as I stand in this sanctuary for the last time – a place in which my life began before my life in so many ways. My family helped build this church. The Pinneys were some of the founding members of this church way back in the 1800s. And there are pictures of my grandpa standing just out there with a shovel and his trademark hat as they broke ground on this building more than 60 years ago.
But it goes so far beyond that for me. My life quite literally began before my life because my parents met here, shared the news of their engagement here, married here, raised their family here. Were it not for this congregation – for this church that had been my dad’s home since he was born and became my mom’s home-away-from-home when she moved here – I probably would not exist today.
And of course, the life of my faith began before my life in this congregation. I was baptized, confirmed, and ordained within this beloved sanctuary. As a child, I toddled down these hallways, sang Sunday school songs (off-key) at the top of my voice, participated in all the Christmas and Easter pageants right up there, read liturgy as a layreader and counted heads as an usher. I taught Sunday school in those rooms back there and was enriched by the adult Sunday school class in ways that still influence and inform my life and my faith today. The first sermon I ever preached was in that pulpit right behind me.
As I spent 18 mos. seeking my first call, this congregation gave me a safe space – to preach, to teach, to try out all manner of crazy worship ideas! Y’all were so patient and so forgiving! In all its openness and compassion, this congregation helped me find and develop my voice – as a Christian, as a strong woman of faith, and eventually as a pastor. This congregation taught me the value of relationships in ministry, the power of the bond that is created when we work and worship and pray and praise together in true, loving, engaging community.
Our lives begin before our lives.
All of that faith formation – all of that grounding in the sacred and the sustaining love of God – began before my life in the people who were pillars of faith here: the people who shared their faith through teaching, the people who shared their faith through service, the people who shared their faith through music and worship, the people who shared their faith through love and compassion. I could stand here all day naming names, but I probably wouldn’t be able to get through that list. Many of those people are gone now, but the impact of their faith remains. The impact of their faith – their legacy – has touched each and every one of us in some way or another, informing and inspiring and shaping our faith into what it is today in so many different and meaningful ways.
And that goes in the other direction as well. Even though we are preparing to go our separate ways and the rolls of this congregation will soon cease to exist, our lives and the life of faith that we have developed here will live on in many forms – in the ways that we stay connected with one another, in the ways that we connect with new congregations and church homes, in the ways that we continue to learn about and enact our faith, and in the ways that we share that faith with others. No matter what happens, the life of this congregation will live on in us long after the last key has been turned in and the doors have been locked one final time. The life of faith that began here 152 years ago will nurture and form and bless countless other lives, some of whom haven’t even been born yet, because God is a God who does not walk away, does not close doors, does not forget. God is a God of presence and purpose, in this life and the next … whatever that “next” may be.
Our lives begin before our lives, and I will be forever grateful that this congregation has played such a significant part of my life.