The thing was, we as a church had been struggling for a while, financially and maybe to an extent relationally. There weren't many of us (maybe 50? 60? regularly? I'm bad at guessing numbers) and for whatever reason, we weren't really growing. Long story short, we were about to become pastor-less, and we had no money to hire an interim or even to conduct a search.
Within a couple of weeks, it became clear that the church as we knew it was going to close. Some folks decided to find a new church home, and others decided to band together and explore the options for moving forward (things like relaunching, finding another small, like-minded church to join and strengthen, partnering with a church plant coming to the area, etc).
This was the next in a series of events that 'freed' me to leave Chapel Hill and go do something else. (I moved to Richmond and got married, in case you were wondering.) Our last Sunday together was one of both sadness and celebration. Almost like a happy funeral. You know the kind.
Whenever people ask me what drew me to Richmond (or ask for "our story" which, it occurs to me, I don't think I've ever shared here...), I recount some back story. And my church dissolving is a big part of that story, as it was the last tie keeping me in a town when I didn't necessarily want to stay, otherwise.
Anyway, the back story goes something like this: I was living in Chapel Hill. I'd graduated 2 years earlier and I was ready for a change. Within a couple of months, I learned that my lease, my job, and my church would all end by July 2007. Everything that had kept me in Chapel Hill was about to be gone, and I was ready to go somewhere else and do something new.
I've noticed that people seem to react strongly to the church closing element. I don't know if it's because of the highly sensationalized splits we hear about, or the sad image a lot of folks might have of a dusty old church drying up and withering away, or maybe the unusual (but very interesting) idea that something dramatic happened and everybody quit. No matter what, there is almost always a question, and the assumption that something 'bad' happened is present 100% of the time.
But that's not how it was. Not really. I mean, people were unhappy with the situation. Discussions were tense. No clear option to move forward presented itself. Nobody wanted our church to end, and there was certainly some frustration and even anger to that end. But really, there was nothing to be done about it. People didn't shout and slam doors. There wasn't a mass exodus. And what brought us to our end wasn't drama. We - or at least many of us - accepted the circumstance, chose to spend what little time we had left together, and in the end, celebrated what had been. (That was my experience, anyway.)
When all was said and done and I was sitting alone in my apartment dealing with the full realization that I would never go back and I would never see many of those people again, I cried. It was hard. It was really hard. And while I do like being a part of this church here in Denver, I'm not sure I'll ever be in a church as deeply meaningful as that little church in Durham. I had been part of a real church family there. They had loved me and supported me during the worst years of my life. They accepted me unflinchingly when many of the people in my life were demanding I be different. I haven't found that in another church.
So, this particular church closing was not a bad thing. It was sad, yes, but not bad.