My daughter is a senior in high school. Now that she’s officially got herself into college, we have been observing a series of “lasts” — her last swim meet, her last “biggest/shortest” concert (a concert involving all string instrument students in the Waterville schools), etc. The weeks leading up to graduation will be full of lasts, some more significant than others.

I’ve been thinking a lot about lasts lately. During a recent clergy breakfast, a colleague was wondering if these are the last months of the church that she serves, as the church struggles mightily with serious financial problems. At Old South (the church I serve), I’ve been thinking about lasts. In February, we celebrated our 225th anniversary. Does the church have another 25 years or was the 225th the last of its milestone anniversaries?

Churches have a hard time with lasts, and that is understandable. Especially for those of us who have some memory of full mainline church sanctuaries, it is difficult to accept that our circumstances have changed so dramatically in such a short period of time. Talking to good church people whose churches have closed, I am taken aback by the language of failure.

“Our church failed,” I’ve heard too many people say.

But, as I think about my daughter’s lasts, many of which are bittersweet, I’m also increasingly aware of the life that is a part of them, that she is living a life, though connected to me, is not controlled or engineered by me (even if I wish it to be!). Most of the “lasts” that she is experiencing, in and of themselves, don’t express success or failure; they are part of her journey of life. Even as her parent, I’m not in so much in control of the path, as I am a participant, a loving guide, an encouraging presence, in a life that has a direction of its own.

I’ve been thinking about this dynamic in relation to church. There, too, I have discovered that I am not in control of where and how the path will unfold, and where it will end. My role is to be a part of a faithful church, a church that demonstrates and lives out God’s love and hope, even if that means that we are on our own series of “lasts.”

If Old South does not manage to make it to its 250th, I’d like to think that we will never think of our church as a “failure.” Instead, we will think of our good witness, and our efforts to live out the love, hope and joy of God, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. If we remain true to the Gospel, we and the church of which we are part, will never be a failure. Even if we come to a place where we close our doors and shut down.

To believe is to trust and to trust is to know that God lives, and God lives in our midst, even if we are—consciously or unconsciously—living out a series of lasts. All I or we can do is to share the love of God with reckless abandon. We may not attract others, or enough others, to keep our building and staff functioning into the indefinite future. But we are still church and our witness still matters.

As I am discovering with my daughter, some lasts are happy, some are sad, and some are both. But they are not bad.

They are part of the journey of life. They are part of the journey of faith.

Susan M Reisert is a pastor and teacher at Old South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Hallowell. Email her at [email protected]. Windows on Faith is published every Saturday.


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