Everyday nine churches in the US close their doors for good. With that statistic ringing in her ears, the Rev. Angie Mabry-Nauta, a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America, went to worship on her congregation’s last day.
Our last Sunday together finally arrived, and about 100 people who had previously left came to honor the church that they once attended and still love. Some members who had faithfully been attending were angered. Where have these people been? Maybe if they hadn’t left, we wouldn’t be here closing this church today! This is a natural response, I think, when a community you love will die by afternoon’s end.
We shared communion together one last time, and moved from fellowship hall, where we worshipped for two years, into the sanctuary. There, in that cross-adorned sacred space that dons a banner reading “Celebrate Life!” we spoke words of blessing, closure, and release of our pastors. We sang our last hymn together, “The Church’s One Foundation,” and stood in the sanctuary for what seemed like hours, not quite sure what to do next.
Complete with people coming out of the woodworks and a communal meal following the service, the final worship felt like a funeral for our church. Our pastors recited Scripture and preached briefly, and four speakers shared their own words, eulogizing the church that they’ve loved. What a gift to be part of the remnant that stayed to the very end. Had my family left prematurely, we would have avoided some pain, yes, but also denied ourselves rich blessings and relationships deepened through shared grief. We did what Christians have done for thousands of years when a loved one has passed on—celebrated life, treasured memories, and grieved a deep loss together as the body of Christ.