READFIELD — In addition to the variety of issues a “church on the move” presents, possibly the most important in any church relocation is the people who make up its congregation.

In a very real sense, a church is its membership. Its purpose, mission and vision, finances, and its “will to survive” as an institution are all directly related to the each member’s support, active participation and faith in God.

That said, individual church members have their likes and dislikes, preferences, prejudices and wish lists.

One way to see people’s individual perceptions of what a church relocation means is to refer to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief. Although her work can be oversimplified and does not always follow a prescribed behavior, Kubler-Ross suggests five stages of the grief process: denial and shock, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.

Our church must move by next May because the lease on its Church Street building is not being renewed by the owners.

Recently asked to give their written or oral estimate of how they feel about this move, members of St. Andrew’s congregation responded in a variety of ways, many of which fit the stages-of-grief model.

Denial or shock: “I can’t believe that the Union Meeting House would throw us out like this.” “What will happen to the food bank now, when we go?” “No way!” “I’m going to do a deed search on this in Augusta; I know we own this building!”

Anger: “What is with this Union Meeting House Board, anyway?” “How hateful can you be?” “I think they must hate us.” “Let’s get more publicity; let’s fight this!”

Bargaining: “Surely, we can come to a reasonable understanding that will allow us to stay where we are.” “How about renegotiating the lease with clearer terms?” “Maybe they would let us have church services in their building.”

Depression: “I’m just so sad about this.” “I worry this will mean an end to our church family and our work together in this place.” “Makes me want to cry; I’ve tried not to.”

By far, however, the largest number of responses has been at, or very close to, acceptance:

“The thing I will miss most about St. A’s is its adaptability. It can be a space for worship and within an hour set up for a public supper. We can make it into whatever we need it to be…. Hopefully, members of this congregation can be as adaptable as our physical church has been.”

“St. Andrew’s has always been more than a [physical] church, more like a home for my church family. My one hope is that we can stay together in this move.”

And here is a summary response that in many ways unites all of the stages of grief at once:

“What if someone came into your house and said, ‘You can’t live here any longer’? How would you feel? Where can we go? What will we do with our belongings? How will others in the family react?”

These questions and many more are similar to those we ponder as we get ready to move to a new location.

My wife and I have been members of St. Andrew’s for a few short years, yet we have found this wonderful, warm feeling of family and we have a priest who has held us from panic about this move, keeps us grounded in our mission to succeed, and keeps our church family together.

We agree we can still bake 76 pies for the food bank at Thanksgiving, give two students scholarships each year, have a variety of local and regional commitments for outreach, and worship together as we stay together … somewhere. We have concerns about a lot of things to come, but we know we will stay together and continue to worship and serve the Lord, wherever the Lord puts us.

And, finally, after all the opinions are heard, the recommendations made, the varied functions of the move are in progress and our choices are clear, then choices beyond our comprehension are finally the controlling factor.

The St. Andrew’s congregation has begun to focus on a number of tasks that will demand hard work, lots of communication and conversation, and — most of all — a belief that the move will be a way to continue the church’s ministry.

We will be working with the Diocese of Maine during the coming months to continue to study options and make decisions, but the next step is a congregational meeting to look at options, consider recommendations and move on.

“We know that this move will not be easy for a lot of us,” commented the Rev. Edward Greene, St. Andrew’s vicar, “but we look forward to maintaining our mission with our people if not in this building.”

St. Andrew’s is a special congregation because we give thanks for the good things going on in our lives. On the third Sunday each month, we spend time, sharing aloud, those things we are most thankful for, whether that’s recovering from illness, births, visits, graduations, and more.

Then we give a thank offering down the chimney of a small wooden church building.

That building is a symbol of our thanks to God, and it will move with us.

St. Andrew’s Church welcomes you to come and visit us — either before our move or after.

Bryant Hoffman is senior warden at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Readfield. He’s reachable at 377-3270 or [email protected]

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