“By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137)
In this first quarter of 2014 we will see five parishes in the diocese close with their official suppression date March 3. The official date comes two days before Ash Wednesday this year. Some people would say these parishes should have been closed long ago, but the people who have crossed the thresholds, knelt and prayed, been baptized, married and buried from these parishes would disagree. They have life invested inside the four walls of the churches.
In order to look forward in hope we need to bid a proper farewell to these churches and carry forward not only memories of those important occasions in our lives of faith but also, perhaps, some special memento from that church as people find a new church home within their midst.
We will mark in a special way the closing liturgies because it is important to say good-bye. When some major change is about to occur in a family, we call our people home. It is no different as a parish church is closed or suppressed. We call the community home to celebrate all of the life that came from that place, and we mourn not only those of the family who began their final journeys from the altars of these churches but also those who will no longer celebrate the Eucharist in this place sacred to many generations.
We must recognize and honor these feelings of loss as we turn our eyes to the future, always uncertain no matter what we think we control of our lives. But we have to move forward in faith, trusting our God, believing that God will not leave us stranded with only sadness to accompany us forward.
The psalms talk often of Jerusalem, but how many of us have actually been to Jerusalem? It’s a complicated city with layers of history and three religions fighting for space and sometimes dominance in this Holy City that the prophets spoke to us about in the psalms. We need to find a place that fits, just as they do. It’s complicated here, too, but not impossible.
“How Could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” the psalmist asks. How can people who have called one church home for generations now pack up and move to another, possibly unfamiliar place?
First, we grieve the loss of what is familiar, and we grieve because we’re unsure of a future that is unfamiliar. Then, we take the first step, and we look to a parish that may be new to us at first but a place that will surely welcome us into its community because we share one faith, one baptism, one Lord. We are part of a larger diocesan church, a church in southern Illinois that has nourished not only people locally and globally through our farms but also spiritually through our families who have passed on their faith.
Now, it’s our turn to move into the future, knowing we can continue to pray, to worship, to find a new place with other people of faith, people who will welcome us “home.”