Two News Stories About Churches And Their Worship Space

Last week two different news stories caught my attention and they both  were related to changes in the church and how they were working out their need and vision for worship space.

The first story is about the Gilcomston South Church, now referred to as just the Gilcomston Church, in Aberdeen, Scotland. This congregation had been making the news recently because of its discernment about whether to withdraw from the Church of Scotland. Well, it did so on February 15 and unlike the earlier withdraw of St. George's Tron in Glasgow, it appears Gilcomston was prepared to walk away from the property. The few members of the continuing congregation are now meeting with the South Holburn Church until new leadership is in place and the future prospects are evaluated.

When Gilcomston left their building they began by meeting in a local hotel ballroom but complaints from guests resulted in the hotel management asking them to leave. (Their Facebook page has some pictures of the first Lord's Day away from their building.)

Being without a home the Aberdeen Presbytery made them a very gracious offer (from an article in the Scotsman):
In a remarkable gesture, the members of the Aberdeen Presbytery of the Church of Scotland have agreed to offer members of the former congregation at the city’s Gilcomston South Church the temporary use of the city centre building while they find a permanent base for their breakaway church.
And a BBC article contains this quote from the convener of the Presbytery's special committee considering the property:
The Rev George Cowie, committee convener, said: "'It is deeply sad when people choose to leave the Church of Scotland. We believe that the Church of Scotland is a broad church and that it can accommodate people who hold differing views.

"In this case, however, the situation has not involved conflict, scandal or litigation.

"All parties have shown respect for one another and it has been a good Christian witness for us to engage with one another in this manner."
While I could say a lot about this situation, and the benefits to both parties, I am going to leave that last sentence to speak for itself about the witness. It will be interesting to see in what sort of worship space they finally move into. And that is part of the next story as well...

The second story is about three Georgia churches uniting - brought to us by the Marietta Daily Journal.

Yesterday was the last Lord's Day with the three separate worship services and this coming week they will join together and charter as the new Light of Hope Presbyterian Church on Resurrection Sunday. Having a look at the PC(USA) statistics for these churches you can see the value of joining forces. (And in the discussion below, since the churches are being dissolved, there is no certainty how long the links will still be good.)

Southminster Presbyterian of Marietta shows in the PC(USA) statistics a membership of 86 members in 2011 and average worship attendance of 43, both declining from about twice those numbers seven years ago.

Woodlawn Presbyterian of Mableton has similar numbers with a membership of  69 and average worship attendance of 38. Their decline is not as sharp with only about a 25% drop over the last ten years, a number similar to the PC(USA) as a whole.

Calvary Presbyterian (official website already gone) of Marietta is the smallest of the three with a membership of 45 and average worship of 37. Their membership decline has two phases, a major drop in 2003 and then a steady loss of about half their members since then.  Since the worship attendance does not show the large 2003 drop that is probably just a cleaning of the membership rolls.

Let me highlight a few details from the news report:  First, all three churches are said to have been founded in the 1960's so these are not historic churches but more likely represent the mainline expansion into suburbia as the city spread. (They are all on the southwest side of Marietta.)  Second, the pastors speak of their congregations getting older so these churches reflect the graying of the PC(USA). (The comment is made that the average age of one of the congregations is 65 which is only slightly older than the median age for the denomination of 63 determined by the latest Presbyterian Panel Snapshot.) Third, Southminster and Calvary share a pastor - managing with dwindling resources. Finally, both of the pastors of these three churches are at retirement age and with the closings will go into retirement.

But what caught my attention was the future plans for the new church. The first is the new pastor coming in to work with the new church - The Rev. Edwin Gonzalez-Gertz. He is transferring from the Presbytery of Tropical Florida and the summary of the November meeting of Cherokee Presbytery indicates that they were conducting a presbytery level search to fill a designated pastor position. The 2013 Mission Yearbook lists Rev. Gonzalez-Gertz as being on the Tropical Florida Presbytery staff as the Associate Missional Presbyter. A 2006 article in the Sun Sentinel describes him and his earlier work at Cypress Presbyterian Church in Pompano Beach. Lots of good stuff in the article but here is his quote describing that church:
This church has been transformed into a bilingual, multicultural community that fits the projected demographics for the nation in 2050, so it is a project that the Presbyterian General Assembly is supporting to test the different ways of doing church.

Looking to the future the other aspect is all three properties are for sale. So what does this mean for their worship space? Here is what the current pastors say in the article:
The Southminster church building will house the new Light of Hope congregation for no more than two years, Paulsen said. It will then move to a new location that’s not a traditional church building.

“Traditional church buildings aren’t built for ministries,” Paulsen said. “We need to add some elements to the program to make it more attractive to young families.”

The new elements will be more contemporary, but won’t stray from the “classic Presbyterian DNA,” as Paulsen put it.

Each church has promised that the site starting out at Light of Hope will only be temporary, and they intend to find a vacated building – possibly an old bookstore or Home Depot site – to draw a new crowd, Spangler said.
New ways of doing church, and you don't know how it will work out until you try.

We wish both of these congregations well as they move forward and will try to remember to stop back in to see how they are doing. And a big thanks to Aberdeen Presbytery for your gracious Christian Witness.

And a bit more on church growth in the next day or two...
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