As new churches open and others are renewed through local mission, the season for some churches comes to an end. It’s a difficult time.
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When we held our last regular service at Whakatane Lutheran Church, on New Zealand’s North Island on Christmas Day last year, 16 people attended. LCNZ Bishop Mark Whitfield conducted our closing service on 5 February 2017 before a congregation of 33.
The usual attendance at our congregation was only six. In fact, there were several weeks when only two people came. Those weeks were rather discouraging, but the liturgy was still the same. How we love the liturgy!
My husband Tony Houlbrooke and I began attending at Whakatane in 2004. There would have been around 25 members at that stage, but fewer attended regularly.
I’m not sure why the decline is happening in some of our churches, but we have an idea that people don’t see the importance of meeting together on Sundays. When Sunday worship isn’t happening regularly, a lethargy sets in and our witness to our children and neighbours is lost.
The last resident church worker in the congregation left at the end of 2004. We had some excellent retired interim pastors for about five years after that.
We shared a full-time pastor with churches at Hamilton, Tauranga (which has since closed) and Kawerau for four years from 2011. When that arrangement finished, we were encouraged to explore ways to grow the church membership. And we did try things.
We decided at last year’s AGM to watch attendances and our financial situation, and if nothing changed by the end of the year, we would close. There was still a hope that God would send new people our way, but it wasn’t to be.
The closing service was a celebration of how God had used his church over 53 years, a remembrance of people gone before us, and a drawing to the end of worship as we know it.
What does the future hold for us? Tony and I have been attending the local Anglican-Methodist Church because we wanted to go to a liturgical church.
We have been asked to help with service leading and music, and we are getting to know others. We feel that we have been called to serve in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Luther’s Small Catechism has become more precious than ever. We read it and pray it ourselves each day, and share it with our grandchildren. I think we have become Lutheran Anglicans.
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