From Sarah- With Love

From Sarah- With Love,

A United Methodist Church in a suburb of St. Paul made national news again.  Lately, it seems as if we need to wear buttons that say, “hug a Methodist!, she needs it!” The Church rarely makes the news for something wonderful.  The story contains many factual errors about a complicated situation.  And even so, I was heartbroken to read about it and even more devastated as I read the flurry of Facebook posts; the comments people hurl around are generally just awful.  My heart aches for the church people who feel disregarded in the middle of such dramatic change and I feel for the clergy who are trying their best to navigate and shepherd people through change. Because that is really what this is about, isn’t it?  How do we deal with change?  How do we change?  And wouldn’t we really rather not?  Except that Jesus comes and asks us, expects us to change: “change your hearts and lives!,” he says, “Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matthew 4:17).

Ugh. not that again, Jesus.  Not today, Jesus.

Anyway, read the Scripture passage for Sunday  and then read this:

I edited the article here:

A United Methodist church in Minnesota has put the spotlight on widespread generational challenges across the county, with many leaders trying to attract younger people without alienating the elderly members who are the backbone of their dwindling congregations.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently suggested in a headline that the Cottage Grove church will “usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners.” But the Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, its head pastor, said Tuesday that allegations of age discrimination unfairly represented the strategy for a church that has been on the decline for two decades.

“No one is being asked to leave the church,” said Wetterstrom, 59. “People are disappointed that the service is being canceled.”

After some members complained about the leadership’s vote to shutter the Cottage Grove church, leaders said Tuesday they never asked members to leave, but they did say the church will reopen with some changes to its look and feel.

“It felt like they were targeting us even though they didn’t put an age number on it,” said William Gackstetter, 70, who lives about four blocks from the church.

The church’s building sits on prime real estate because it sits across the street from an Aldi and down the street from Target, he said, and he is worried that the church will be shut down permanently and turned into apartments, like other shuttered churches across the country. Even the United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the country, is not immune to the declining membership numbers affecting other churches across the country in recent decades. Efforts to revitalize the existing congregation have not worked, Wetterstrom said.

It can be challenging for pastors to convince older parishioners that taking more dramatic measures to close the generation gap is valuable, said Jason Byassee, a professor at the Vancouver School of Theology who has served as a Methodist pastor in North Carolina. “The attitude can be, ‘We give the money, don’t change a thing,’” he said. “That’s not church, that’s a club.”

When the Cottage Grove location opens again in the fall, it will include a different look and feel, Wetterstrom said. It currently includes hymns and a traditional choir, for instance, but the new music — which has caused generational strife across denominations — has not been determined yet. (The Grove Church is already part of the progressive wing of the larger United Methodist Church and is not part of a nationwide denominational split over same-sex marriage.)

And congregations are growing older as younger people are less likely to identify as religious. In 1998, 29 percent of the average congregation was over 60 years old, said Mark Chaves, a sociologist at Duke University who studies congregations in America. In 2012, that percentage was 37 percent, and he said recent data suggests that the percentage has continued to climb.

The strategy is part of a relaunch effort that has been successful in other parts of the region, said Bruce R. Ough, who is the Methodist bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota region and provides oversight to congregations like the Grove. Minnesota has had a steep decline in worship attendance, but the state saw some modest growth starting in 2018, he said.

“This is about trying to live into what people all the time criticize us for not doing: make the church relevant and find innovative ways to reach the persons who claim to be spiritual but not religious because the settings they walk to that are religious don’t awaken their spirit,” Ough said. He said that for many communities with younger populations or different ethnicities, leaders might need to adjust long-standing traditions.

“We haven’t rejected anyone because of age,” he said. “What I do encounter from time to time is people who turn it into ageism because even though they say they want to reach young people, they’re reluctant to make changes that are necessary.”

From Sarah- With Love