Heavy hearts and Hopeful spirits (on closing a congregation)

Tomorrow marks my third anniversary as the Senior Minister of Rolling Oaks Christian Church… which makes it devastatingly fitting to share this news today…

Dear ROCC Community & Friends,

It is with heavy hearts yet hopeful spirits that we share the news that April 4, 2021 – Easter Sunday – will be the final service for Rolling Oaks Christian Church. 

We are sad. We are grieving. We are disappointed. 

And yet, we do not lose heart. 

We know that the God of the Resurrection is planting seeds of hope in new ways, and we look forward — as a group, and as individuals — to discovering what is next, and to partnering with God wherever we can. 

We will continue to worship online throughout February and March, and will be posting more information about our closing service on April 4. 

With Love,

Pastor Sara
ROCC Board

Here’s what’s most remarkable about this announcement, and what I want to make very clear:
Rolling Oaks Christian Church did not die. 

We did not fade away, we did not fizzle out. We did not spend every last penny until we had to turn off the lights. Pre-COVID, we were averaging nearly 50 in worship, including about a dozen kids & youth. We had momentum: regular visitors, new members, and seasoned members stepping out of their spiritual comfort zones in new ways. We have done hard and good work. We have money in the bank.

And… that’s what makes this heartbreaking, and so important. 

There are some realities I can name that are culminating this spring and leading to the decision being made at this particular point: Our lease expires on April 30; we will hit one full year of virtual-only worship; and I will be preparing to move to out of state this summer, as Jonathan is being assigned to another location. And… after several years of supplementing our operating funds out of savings, ROCC only has enough to maintain for about one more year

There are also some realities that aren’t so easy to include in a litany but are significant nonetheless, realties due to decisions and circumstances spanning back many years — even decades — that have contributed to where we are today. COVID is a part of it, and COVID isn’t all of it. 

But, reasons and explanations aside, this is the reality in which we find ourselves today.  Except, even now, it doesn’t have to be this way — which is why it is so important to me that we understand this as a prayerful and informed decision.

For the last two years, our driving question has been: “How can we be the most faithful with the resources we have?” And though we could hold on and change nothing, maintaining until every penny is spent — something that there is definitely an unfortunate precedent of in churches — it is likely that, if we don’t make this decision now, it will be made for us when we run out of money in the next year. 

This decision isn’t “giving up” — believe me, we have done hard work to prevent this from happening. We have continually acted in faith and as people of the resurrection, in hopes that our situation would change. Unfortunately, even with all the great things going on, we are not sustainable long-term. The trajectory has been moving in this direction for a long time, and it isn’t changing.

The leadership is rightly concerned that, if we “kick the can down the road” even longer, the congregation will soon have this same conversation, with more urgency and less spiritual health to make it — and without a pastor to help. By doing this on our own terms, we have resources to share. We are in good relationship with each other. We can close from a position of health and agency, not becoming more and more disheartened every week. We can find new worshipping communities while we have spiritual energy left to share.

Personally, I have watched so many churches be at the same point ROCC is at, and, instead of making this decision, their unstated mission becomes “staying alive” instead of “faithfully living the Spirit’s call” — and I am grateful to serve a congregation that recognizes the futility of holding together in that way and refuses to do so. 

As a pastor, I am incredibly proud of this congregation for the hard work they’ve done, and I’m devastated when I think about the vacuum this closure leaves. We are the only Disciples of Christ congregation in our community that openly affirms all people, regardless of orientation or gender identity or expression. That is important, because we aren’t “just another church” — we are unique witness in this area. We’ve assessed our mission and made changes, updated our Constitution, and moved to smaller buildings — twice. We are healthy and in good relationship; it is truly a joy to work with this congregation. The leadership is supportive of me as the pastor and of each other. This is why it is so heartbreaking that this congregation won’t continue to be this place of embrace in our community, particularly for those who had only recently found us or who don’t know where else they will go.

Though it is devastating, it is faithful. We will continue to be the most faithful with the resources we have, and will share our resources of finances and energy with others — who are of the same Body of Christ

It is vital that we tell this story of faithfulness and agency, because by assenting to our closure from a place of health, we are actively creating space for new resurrection

The God we worship is not limited by screens or buildings or savings accounts or charters, and we will continue being in relationship and being community for each other. We are so grateful for our time as a congregation… and look forward to the Spirit springing forth new life in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Peace and love to you, this day, and always…

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