The people of one of the small churches here recently made the painful decision to close their church building permanently. The building has structural problems; they have made several costly efforts to repair them; the problems have persisted, and indeed, have grown worse; the construction experts they have contacted have discouraged them from making further efforts. The time has come for realism.
The decision hurts, realistic as it is. The building has seen a lot of life, and a lot of milestones, over the years. Even people who no longer attend regularly feel attached to that place, that emblem of community. They feel the loss, and the sadness of that loss. Knowing that, and knowing how that feels, is realism, too.
The people most involved in the decision recognize all that. They have involved as many people as they can. They have talked to as many people as they can. They are trying to comfort all the ones who mourn having to say good-bye to that place. They are bracing themselves for the complaints.
Because, yes, we all know that the heavens themselves cannot contain God, let alone a house of worship that human hands have built. We all know that God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere, and that we can worship God and feel God’s love wherever we happen to be. But we human beings are still creatures who feel at home in the places we have known and loved and have been known and loved, and those home places matter to us. Even unavoidable loss still hurts.
So these faithful people make the best decisions they can, reckon with the impact of the decisions, hold fast to the ties that bind, endure loss, keep looking forward. Realism.
Images: “Lilacs,” LtPowers, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; “The Church in Auvers-sur-Oise, View from the Chevet,” Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons