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Church closing gives pause to reflect on ministry and lives

Preaching for the closing service Oct. 18 at Grace Lutheran Church in East Central Spokane, Bishop Martin Wells of the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod spoke of grace, ministry and gratitude.

Grace Lutheran
Closing service for Grace Lutheran Church

Asking what one says in closing a season, the season of the life and ministry of Grace Lutheran Church, he began by sharing some of its history and life.

Born in 1922 from the merger of Zion (Swedish) and Trinity (English), this is a ministry of 87 years.

Grace, he said, came to fill a void in God’s ministry in the East Central Neighborhood of Spokane, and there was ministry.

“A people of God gathered.  They made the coffee and brought in the first potluck meal.  Children were taught the Small Catechism and the stories of the Bible,” Martin recounted.

“Young men went off to war.  The days waxed and waned with prosperity or famine.  Young men and women returned from war and were married here,” he said.

The bishop listed other influences on the ministry:  The highway came. The trains came.  The freeway came.  The latest freeway has been coming for 30 years.

Again, young men and women went off to war, returned and were married and had their infant children baptized in Grace Lutheran.

“(A statue of) Jesus has looked down—from above the altar—on the generations and blessed them with his gaze, a gaze that issues a constant call—be my people, tell others what you have learned here and love one another,” Martin said.

In closing a ministry and celebrating its life, he said smiles and tears would be close together as people tell stories and congratulate each other for faithfulness.

He invited people to let the tears flow and let them go.

“That this tiny band of pilgrims will no longer gather in this way is a grief,” he said, noting that some had favorite pews, and some examined every inch of the triangles in the lattice behind the altar during bad sermons.

Some were thrilled here when the word came with power and conviction, and some may have bristled with self-righteousness and stayed silent in the midst of gossip, he added.

“People have made promises here, deep and profound promises of life-long faithfulness in marriage.  People have buried the dead and let them go, only with promises of eternal life.  People have buried children lost to disease and blessed children in life-giving baptismal water, pledging them for Christ’s call,” he said, offering an overview of ministry.  “People have knelt to receive the undeserved bread and wine of life, the sign that God’s covenant is not destroyed by a lack of faith or a poor power to understand.”

Grace Lutheran, he said, has been a place where people have understood the mystery that God loves them no matter what.

“This has been the place of deepest community, even though you often couldn’t stand one another,” he said.  “This has been the place where the scriptures were opened and read from at just the right moment when you needed a certain word.”

Pastors and council presidents have come and gone.  Children have been confirmed in their faith.  People have been transformed.

Then speaking of the congregation’s outreach, Martin said,  “When this community of faith no longer produced its own children, the doors were flung open to welcome the neighborhood children, kids who knew where to find food and a hug that meant they were cherished.  You called it SPEAR:  Summer Program for Enrichment and Recreation.”

Once again this became a place where the stories of the Bible were told.

“In and under these stories—the sandwiches and soup and cookies, the joy of the swing-set and the pain of scraped knees—the ministry has continued and now becomes the living legacy of this ministry of Grace,” he said.

Hymn choices spoke of gratitude and Scriptures spoke of the suffering servant, who gives up life for Life with a capital “L.”

“This congregation says with the finality of ultimate trust that the people of Grace trusted God to the end and through the end,” he said.

The 17 voting members of Grace Lutheran, who now disperse to other churches, sold the building to another church.  With those funds they established a trust so Project SPEAR will continue to serve neighborhood children from the church’s office building across the road.

For information, call 838-9871.

Copyright © December 2009 - The Fig Tree