Controlled Burn

By Michael Temple

Photo by Dreamstime

I swallowed hard as I eased my vehicle over to the side of the road and cracked open the window. The lump formed in my throat as I began to listen to the sounds of the fire hissing and popping, and I couldn’t stop the sigh of sadness from escaping from my mouth. This small white church that sits aside the route that I travel everyday was in the last gasping throes of a controlled burn, and my mind was ablaze with questions. 
 
I had heard that the little congregation had chosen to close the doors of this once bustling country church, and in the past few months I had seen signs of them emptying the contents and removing the bell from below the steeple. Day after day, as I trekked towards work, I struggled with the thought that this quaint church building would soon be only a memory. 
 
All of this knowledge had not prepared me for watching the controlled burn of this structure, and I felt an incredible sense of loss as the pungent scent of wood smoke came wafting through the driver’s side window of my car. I watched a number of people milling around the church yard, hands stuffed in their pockets, heads down. I wondered how many of them had been members there and pondered the vast array of memories that were inevitably tied into that tiny building. This had to hurt!
 
I have since heard that the church closed because of the incredibly low attendance and the membership’s future challenges of paying expanding bills in the face of a shrinking congregation. A thought occurred to me; this should never have to happen to a church…no matter where they are located. Members shouldn’t have to stand in the yard and watch the structure of their beloved church building structures going up in flames.
 
If a church is living out the biblical mandates given to it by God, it should never have to close its doors for lack of vitality. Thoughts of “what could we have done?” would never even have to cross the minds of members who are living out loud for the Savior that they claim to love and serve. While it’s entirely possible that a church may close because of demographic attrition or lack of spiritually interested people in an area, it’s doubtful. 
 
As I pulled away from the crackling rubble of this little church building, a potent thought invaded my senses; “Would the community miss my church if it burned to the ground, or would news of it merely become a sad footnote on the religious page of our local newspaper?” These thoughts have continued to trouble me over the ensuing weeks since the fire. Churches shouldn’t close. Congregations should be vital members of the communities that they claim to serve.