The Nurse Log Church

Posted on January 9, 2012


I visited a Worcester, MA church which is home to both a small, aging, traditional congregation and a growing, young-adult, Vineyard-style congregation.  The contrast is easy to see in this short video taken as the worship team warms-up between the 10:30 Pilgrim worship (see the chapel?) and the 12pm Woo worship (see the band?).  I wrote a REVIEW of the Pilgrim church.  It is not pretty.  I felt depressed when I left.

I visited with The Woo in July 2011 and offered a warm review of a cool church with reggae music, free fresh produce and an obvious embrace of the neighborhood.  You can read that review HERE.  Just scroll down to the bottom to read about The Woo.

The visit this Sunday reminded me of the book by Paul Nixon I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church.  These were some of the best insights for me:

Consider giving your historic space to a library association, to another church, to an ecumenical ministry, to a hotel, or to the city–to some group that will take care of it–and then let them spend millions to preserve it.  This frees you to pick and relocate your church’s ministry, without the guilt that you are somehow offending the god of architectural preservation (87).

Services deal in profound truth, but they do so in ways that simply do not engage the young adult public.  And many young men, in particular, would rather spend an hour in hell than watch Mr Rogers or sit in our church pews” (72).

And a personal favorite as I consider returning to active ministry:

Fair warning, bishop!  Fair warning, pastor search committee!  You may have people on your doorstep six months after I arrive demanding that you deliver them from me!  I am delighted to serve here, but be warned in advance, I refuse to lead a dying church!  I promise to be kind in my approach, but i will, by design, spend…

Less time in pastoral care of accumulated membership

More time building bridges in community

Less time in pointless meetings

More time developing the leaders that will be taking the church into its future.

The Pilgrim UCC congregation and building remind me of one giant, dead, Spruce tree which, as it decays, has become home to a sapling ministry called the Woo.  Today the dying log is obvious, but one day all we will see is the splayed roots of a congregation that sucked the rich nutrients of tradition and location from a “nurse log” congregation and then gained footing and strength enough to stand alone.  It is certainly sad to see such a magnificent tree fall, but it seems to me necessary for the emergence of something strong enough to thrive in the atmosphere of a new day.

Posted in: Changing Church