By Bruce Spangler
These are rather odd ecclesia words. The oddness is not in their peculiarity or strangeness. The words have meanings and definitions that are quite obvious.
Disbanding is the act of ceasing to function as an organization, and to separate and move in different directions; disperse. Leave-taking is a farewell that "Webster’s Dictionary" suggests is done so “politely.”
The oddness in these two verbs lies in the frequency or more so, the lack of frequency of their use. However, the people called West View United Methodist Church became all too familiar with the terms. Voting to disband on Dec. 16, the people took leave of their building on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012.
West View is not the first congregation in our conference to disband. It will not be the last.
But why? Why have congregations in the past gone down the path of dissolution? Why will future churches do the same?
Why West View?
As I pondered why we at West View disbanded and took-leave, I begin to sense that there is a common factor or informing spirit in previous, present, and possible future similar dissolutions of churches.
Why West View?
West View did not close because of a lack of faithfulness. For nearly 82 years, West View was a faithful Wesleyan and Methodist presence in Knoxville, Tenn. It maintained its orders of Word and Table. It reached out to its community. It did so all in the name of the risen Christ. No, a lack of faithfulness is not the reason.
Neither did it close because of a lack of “want to” or gumption. West View maintained a willing and strong spirit. Even in its decline, the church made sure that its brothers and sisters of the household were well cared for. When those on the outside of the walls need some encouragement or assistance, West View would rise to the occasion.
The simple rules of “do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God” always guided and informed the practice of love among the people. The church did not close because of the diminishment of love. Kingdom living was always part of both the landscape and heart of the people.
Don’t get me wrong. West View is no different from any gathering of people. Disagreement, confusion, resentment, and other conflicting sentiments had their moments and opportunities. Yet there was always the point where the “catholic spirit” overrides and people request of one another “put your hand in my hand.”
So why did West View close? Our Jewish ancestors and heritage helped me identify and understand the phenomena that we were experiencing.
We are quite familiar with the text where Jesus mouths the words, “Where there are two or three gathered, there I am also.” I believe that and affirm it as part of my experience. Yet the experience speaks to “fellowship” and companionship. I don’t think it speaks to the experience of “community,” however.
According to JewishEncyclopedia.com, there are a certain number of adults required, or a quorum, necessary for most acts of public worship and prayer. The word for the quorum of at least 10 adults is “minyan.” This source continues to cite:
The minimum of 10 is evidently a survival in the Synagogue from the much older institution in which ten heads of families made up the smallest political subdivision. In Exodus 28, Moses, on the advice of Jethro, appoints chiefs of tens, as well as chiefs of fifties, of hundreds, and of thousands. In like manner there were the decurio among the Romans and the tithingman among the early English.
I began to suspect that the energy required to sustain a community is different from sustaining and maintaining fellowship. The practice of minyan exemplifies such an understanding.
Community requires a more exhaustive and collective spirit to meet both demands and expectations therein. Maybe that is what our Jewish ancestors recognized from its experience and practice. The task of any and all sacred communities is no easy mission. As United Methodists believe, the church exits, under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world. (See paragraph 201 of the Book of Discipline.) These tasks – this mission, as led by the Spirit of God -- requires more than two or three people to sustain and maintain.
I am ever so proud of my brothers and sisters of West View for their wisdom in discerning that they were lacking the collective energy to meet the task of being the church that maintains, edifies and serves as a redemptive agent.
Furthermore, I applaud their maturity is seeing that in order for them to be faithful witnesses of the risen Christ, they, individually, need to find a worshipping community that has the collective energy to meet the expectations of any local entity of the body of Christ.
These are odd verbs because they are seldom uttered. But when they are uttered, the maturity required to do both faithfully should be recognized.
To my brothers and sisters of the former West View United Methodist Church, your faithfulness and love will continue to inform and influence the kingdom in ways that you will never know. Rest assured, however, that they will.
The Rev. Spangler is the former pastor at West View UMC and current chief operating officer for Volunteer Ministry Center in Knoxville, Tenn.
One year after a Knoxville congregation voted to close their church, the building and property was sold to an interfaith organization that helps homeless families. Family Promise of Knoxville closed on the purchase of the former West View United ...