Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Unhappy Church

Walking past Epworth United Methodist Church yesterday , two long blocks from here, I thought, "That is not a happy church." It looked unused if not actually abandoned. The grass was cut, But the flowerbeds edging the sidewalks were bare, some of the brick blocks lining them out of place.  No one had bothered to add "Happy Easter" or "He is risen" to the signboard announcing the church's single worship service & the name of the pastor, Peg Kaleh,  (assigned there about two years ago). Sometimes the lights are on but never a sign of anyone going in or out. Epworth is the only United Methodist Church remaining in this city of about 125,000 people. All the mainline protestant churches in Elizabeth are failing, some of them occupying magnificent, historical structures.

The loudest church in town, an Evangelical Center in a restored movie theater, looks busy, welcoming & swell until you examine what they actually preach there;  what a  friend of mine in West Virginia might call the "I ain't descended from monkeys" doctrine ever since he heard a preacher proclaiming that at what my friend had thought would be a harmless, friendly church picnic (Pointless to tell that preacher we're not descended from monkeys anyway),

The only church around here that "calls" to me is the Russian Orthodox around the corner, not because I want to be an Orthodox but because the old priest leaves the door open on late afternoons & I can peer in & see the beautiful icons & flickering candles,  & couple of times I walked in & sat in the rear pew for awhile. That church also has an aging, dwindling congregation, but it doesn't seem unhappy. Just not enough Russians, I suppose.  Their Easter coincided with the Western Church this year, so I missed the Easter Basket Blessing on the front lawn, a robed quartet of liturgical singers standing on the front steps punctuating the intoned prayers with lovely four-part refrains.

Sad indeed when a church is so down it cannot pull itself together enough to even make a show of Easter. Neither the pastor nor any member of the congregation moved to update the church sign, much less pick up a few containers of discounted flowers from the racks in front of the supermarket for planting by the church entrances just to liven it up a bit.

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"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Thomas Jefferson

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