For years this close-knit community of faith struggled to grow. Twenty years earlier, there had been a discussion regarding tapping into a nearby water line. The decision was clearly stated, by a long-time member: It is good enough for me, it was good enough for my children, it was good enough for my grandchildren we don't need a bathroom in the church. Yet, neither her children, nor grandchildren, were still attending.
After the outhouse fell in, after the members tried a number of outreaches, with little to no success, after a few longtime members passed on, the decision was made: It was time to close.
This decision was a very difficult one indeed. They were the only church in their little community. Those remaining had deep roots; this was where they grew up, where their parents and grandparents worshiped. But it was time. It was time to be good stewards of all that they had been given.
They creatively planned how to make a major kingdom impact with what they had to offer. They chose to merge with one of their sister churches on the charge, just three miles down the road. They brought with them $25,000.00 and some of their worship furnishings. With their financial gift, the Rainsboro UMC paid off half their debt from a new roof and parking lot surface project. The other half found a variety of uses. $1,000.00 was placed in a 'New Ministries Fund', which could be used for such, and possibly be enough to receive matching funds, as the church planned for outreach and mission. $1,000.00 was set aside for the youth, so cost would never be the reason a youth could not attend a special event. The rest was the answer to the longtime question of how to cover the side step entrances, both up and down. A full structure was erected to allow for safety and a sheltered space for the long line of food pantry recipients each month.
New Petersburg UMC also gifted $5,000.00 to Marshall UMC, a sister church on the charge, along with other special items. $1,000.00 was given to the charge's food pantry; $5,000.00 was given to NOMADS; and the remaining balance was given to New Directions, a community youth ministry. Overtime, the building and extra furnishings sold at auction. Those proceeds allowed the Rainsboro UMC to become debt free.
What a wondrous gift the New Petersburg UMC community of faith was, is, and will be, to so many others. They could have run out the money over the years with the 9, then 7, then even fewer. Instead - they decided to be a blessing, as they had indeed been blessed.
May all churches prayerfully discern God's plan for their area of ministry, and may all remain faithful to the Gospel, in all they do.
Rev. Debra Ketcham is the pastor of Rainsboro and Marshall United Methodist Churches.