Just yesterday I was watching Abandoned America, which features location in America that were aired on Forgotten Planet: Picher, Salton Sea, Bodie, Hunter’s Point, and Detroit. While I agree that the narration was a tad over-dramatic, the images were certainly haunting. What struck me as most tragic were the churches.
Picher’s church was a small, plain, white building that looked like it was in need of a fresh coat of paint. It was the sort of church I could imagine being anywhere. Decades of mining had resulted in lead contamination – from the air the people breathed, the dust they walked on, and the water they drank … causing sickness among the population. I can picture a group of faithful believers asking for prayers for so-and-so who had just been diagnosed with cancer, or who had their cancer reoccur, or a kid who was struggling with school. About ten years ago, Picher was hit by a tornado – that destroyed most of the community. It was the final straw, and Picher began to empty out. A church that was once full of prayer would now sit silently empty each and every day of the week.
Detroit isn’t completely abandoned, but many buildings are. The church that was featured was a big brick building, with large, ornate windows – some were still intact with their curved window – others had been broken. They actually went inside this church – and it was even more spectacular – it had a big banner, the words ‘Praise’ and ‘God’ still legible. There were the lower seats, and the upper seats – the building was designed to be filled with fabulously wealthy worshipers singing praises together – a plain church just wasn’t their style. No expense must have been spared at the time of it’s construction – as was the case with the rest of the city. Nobody could have predicted that the city would fall so far, so hard, so fast when the hard times came … they just didn’t quit. It was a church of hopeful promise, but ultimately broken dreams.
Most churches will never have to worry about environmental disasters, but what happened in Detroit can happen to any church … and might just be happening to my church in slow-motion. I’m not sure what sort of future my church has – an empty building, lifeless and for sale or a vibrant house of worship and vital part of the community it serves. The worst thing is that, as a new person, I can’t really do anything about it at all. I came across hundreds of pictures of my church from just a few years ago – taken long before we started attending … there are dozens of faces I don’t recognize of people that used to be there but have been long gone… I can’t help but wonder: What happened? What’s going to happen? What went wrong? What’s going to save this church? Will it be saved? Is it even worth saving?
Did you know that the original meaning of ‘abandoned’ was in the sense of: ‘to bring under control’ or ‘to surrender to or give into the control of’ … If we abandon human principles of ownership and wealth-seeking and control (because what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working) to God’s way and the Holy Spirit’s control (we really have nothing to lose at this point) – there’s no limit to the good my church might serve for it’s community (for years, possibly decades to come) … to me, that’s a future worth having.