Have you ever wanted to peek inside of an old church, just out of curiosity? This past Saturday a team from Embrace Richmond helped paint an old Sunday school classroom at Central United Methodist Church. The room was donated to a Boy Scout troop started for the boys in the Hillside Court and surrounding communities. I could not resist pressing the scout master for a tour of that old church which was built at the turn of the century. The stain glass, the unique double sanctuary design and magnificent woodwork, were breath taking.
My daughters were with me and we were all moved by the sheer beauty of the building and decided to worship there this past Sunday. (Chris was out of town and does not like my crazy church visiting ventures.) At the conclusion of the worship service, I complemented the pastor on the beauty of the church and he shared that when he first came to the church, there was talk of closing the doors due to the low membership. However, when he choose to come to this dying inner city church, he did so with a vision; a vision for using this magnificent building as a kingdom asset to serve the hurting community around it.
Several years ago Central UMC developed a partnership with Trinity UMC, a thriving suburban congregation. Over the years, members of Trinity UMC have breathed new life into this congregation through community focused outreach ministries including the Micah Initiative, a Sunday Afternoon art focused Kid’s Club, and now a Boy Scout troop led by my 83 year old church tour guide, Jim. Jim inspired me. He could be out playing golf in his retirement years but instead he was investing in urban youth, taking them camping and instilling in them pride in their American heritage.
However as wonderful as the volunteers from Trinity are; had a remnant from Central UMC not remained to keep the doors open, this church like so many others would have died long ago. What is unique about Central is that they have come to recognize that it is not “their” church but the Lords and are willing to open it up to the community as a safe haven for the children of this impoverished community.
I am often challenged by the emphasis suburban churches place on building buildings while beautiful structures such as Central UMC are so underutilized. In my previous post “Has the Light Gone Out?” , I questioned the effectiveness of these large traditional churches that adorn the landscape of the inner city. However, today I just want to give thanks and praise God that these structures still stand and continue to inspire awe through the beauty of their design and the beauty of the remnant that is keeping them alive. Most of the members of Central UMC are seniors and most no longer live in the community where they worship. While they are small in number with only an average of 50 people in worship; they are faithful. They drive past dozens of “conveniently located” churches and journey into the city to preserve Christ Church for the next generation.
I have a question; will all their effort be in vein? What if my generation, a generation obsessed with convenience, refuses to make a similar sacrifice? Are these magnificent houses of worship destined to be abandoned? Will we grieve when the “For Sale Sign” goes up? Is there any real kingdom value in keeping them alive? If so, what role can we play in assuring they stand as a beacon of light and do not add to the darkness all around them?