by the Rev. Cathie P. Young, associate rector
Sunday, September 15, our congregation held its final services in our beloved church in Newport Beach where we have worshiped for over 70 years. With all my heart, I longed to be with you and attend at least one of the morning three services, but my recovering body wouldn’t let me. So I sat tearfully in my recovery chair and prayed throughout the morning until I knew that the final song from the final service had been sung and the final dismissal had been given. That’s when I knew, “THE CHURCH HAD LEFT THE BUILDING!” because the church is not the bricks and mortar, but rather, the church is YOU – the people of St. James!
During the services, I got marvelous little text messages from some of parishioners with pictures and short videos. Especially compelling was the video that showed Pastor Richard leading the congregation out of the church with a shepherd’s crook in one hand and a Bible in the other. Then the Church standing united on that lovely patio and singing together the closing hymn.
I know that even with the worshipful spirit of those final moments, it wasn’t an easy day for anyone — saying goodbye is so painful. Sorrow is clearly a main player in this church drama. And what we experienced on our last Sunday, we will surely experience in future weeks. You see, sorrow is not usually fleeting but may remain for days, weeks, even months. For us, for some time, sorrow and hope will live side-by-side.
St. Paul speaks honestly about this experience of sorrow and hope living side-by-side in what I call the “Christian dichotomy” – a dichotomy being a contrast between two things which are opposed or utterly different. He minced no words when he spoke about the reality of how hard the Christian journey can be but at the same time he spoke eloquently about the eternal hope that sits alongside the greatest difficulty and sorrow.
In 2 Corinthians 4 as he describes it this way in Eugene Peterson’s The Message:
“We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken … While we’re going through the worst, we’re getting in on the best!”
And I saw exactly this reflected in the pictures and video I received from our last Sunday service. There were tears on some faces, smiles on others. Some looked triumphant and encouraged – others were downcast. And these same feelings will be repeated many times over the next many months as we transition from our beloved church building to the new places where God is leading us.
It will be important in this time to acknowledge and speak to our sorrow. That’s the reason our “Pastoral Care Response Team” will continue to offer times to process together how we are doing! It’s also the reason Pastor Joyce Brooks and I will be opening our schedules to meet with those who need a chance to talk about their sorrow and the difficulties they may be having with the transition. We also have trained lay persons who can sit, listen and pray with you!
We should not ignore our feelings of sorrow. Nor should we hide them. St. Paul role modeled for us that speaking about how hard things can be is a Christian thing to do! And as we speak together in a godly environment, we can be assured that God’s Spirit will bring to us the hope of Christ that will allow us like St. Paul to say, “While we’re going through the worst, we’re getting in on the best!”
If you need someone to speak to in this transitional time, please contact Pastor Joyce Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or be in touch with me at email@example.com or on my mobile phone at 949 279-1246. We are here for you!