Friday, November 11, 2011
The Old Neighborhood
Not my Old Neighbor, at least not exactly, but my dad's old neighborhood, where he grew up, and the community that formed him, or at least, his faith.
I was at the nursing home across the street from the church where he was baptized and confirmed, Augustana Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis. It is now situated across the street from the Metrodome Stadium. The nursing home where I visited was begun by the church many years ago. It's a large complex, with different kinds of nursing facilities, assisted living, and apartments.
But the church itself is very small, or, at least it is now. In fact, I heard recently that the church building is up for sale, and that the tiny congregation is looking to move to another location not so far away.
Like I said, it's not my Old Neighbhood exactly; it's my dad's old neighborhood. He grew up at this church. In fact, when my parents were first married they belonged there. I was baptized at Augustana Lutheran Church, and started Sunday School there. I remember climbing up the many steps to the sanctuary, and having one of the ushers hand me a bulletin. That old entry with many steps was closed up many years ago; too hard for the elderly members to navigate.
I remember the large sanctuary and the tall ceiling, and the man who spoke from the pulpit (but I couldn't see him). I remember getting picked up for Vacation Bible School by the associate pastor and his family. They had a station wagon.
When I was in first grade, we moved to a church in our neighborhood, away from the city, into the suburbs. It was the first great migration, and many of the families that belonged to Augustana moved as well. They enlivened the churches in those first ring suburbs, the churches that are now experiencing decline, and wondering what their mission is.
Augustana became a small congregation, but it did not have a small vision. As I went in the door to the Augustana Home last Wednesday, I considered the ongoing legacy of care. The church may be tiny, and the church may even die, but Augustana gave itself away for the sake of the gospel. They gave themselves away starting mission congregations, too, some still going strong out in the suburbs. But at they gave themselves away most of all for the sake of the mission of caring for the elderly, for the vulnerable, for those who could no longer care for themselves.
It seems to me that there are worse things that could happen to a church. A church could disappear without ever giving itself away, preserving itself until everyone is gone and the doors are locked. The only legacy would be the building standing unused.
Of course I wish that Augustana Lutheran church, and those hardy Swedish immigrant like my grandparents could have found a way to reach out and be a vital worshipping community to the people who live there now. There is another church, I hear, who wants to buy their building perhaps. I wish that of all of our churches, in fact -- that we could learn a way to welcome one another, worship together, offering the bread of life to people who are our neighbors, even if they aren't Swedes or Germans or Irish anymore.
But it seems to me that there are worse things that can happen to a church than what is happening to Augustana. The faith of the our ancestors continues to bear fruit there, in the Nursing Home, in the Assisted Living Center, in the chapel where people gather.
I hope we can say the same when we are done. I hope they will say of us that we had dreams worthy of the mission of God, that we gave ourselves away for the least and the lost.