1How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, 4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. 5 But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6 I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Today my home church, Young’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church closed its doors forever. Six generations of my family from my maternal grandmother’s grandmother down to my sister’s daughters have all worshiped at 1039 South 16th Street in Louisville, Kentucky. Today, the church held a final service for members past and present to bid farewell to an institution that was vitally important in the lives of thousands of individuals and families through the years. I did not attend the final service.
Honestly, a major reason that I didn’t want to go back to bid farewell was because I didn’t want to hear the current Presiding Bishop of the jurisdiction that Young’s Chapel is under preach the final service. Yes, he is a very articulate, educated, and capable preacher; however, he is much too insensitive and abrasive for my taste. I viewed the final service at Young’s Chapel as an opportunity for the worshipers to find closure and hope; I am certain that I would not find either with the Bishop preaching. Moreover, I didn’t go to the final service because I understood something that many current members of the church could not and maybe still cannot bear to say— I realized that the church was dead a long time ago. Although the ultimate death and closure of the church occurred much sooner than I thought it would, I made peace that it would die a long time ago and said my goodbyes then. In his 2014 book, The Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Thom Rainer informs the reader that the organization ceases being a viable and effect church many years before it actually dies and closes. In as much as I loved my home church and the people in it, the reality is that the church has been sick and dying for nearly two decades. I have grieved for Young’s Chapel for years. Today, members past and present were forced to do the same.
Young’s Chapel was not a perfect organization, but my upbringing in that church made a huge positive impact on who I am as a man, pastor, and executive professional today. It was there that I learned how to play the piano from my childhood pastor. There I found the courage and strength to overcome my shyness through my childhood youth director forcing me to regularly speak before the congregation. The church helped me to seek a personal relationship with God; develop a love for the hymns of the church; appreciate the unique black church experience; understand parliamentary procedure; discover and advance my leadership skills and abilities; and build a network of friends and acquaintances literally all across the world.
Young’s Chapel AME Church invested in me to ensure my emotional, social, spiritual, professional, and even financial success. I cannot begin to count the number of times people throughout my childhood and young adulthood checked on me, slid $100 bills into my hand, or just encouraged me with a “you hang in there at school— I’m so proud of you.” I was blessed to have a church family who knew me beyond Sunday morning. We traveled together, shared holidays together, ate meals together, visited each other’s houses, we had lock-ins at church together, prepared food together, celebrated together, cleaned together, mourned together, and laughed together for generations. Many of my closet friends to this day are through relationships I developed at that church. I know the real sadness that I feel at this moment even though I haven’t been affiliated with that church for years— I can’t even imagine how those who stayed and still worshiped there feel today now that they have to say goodbye.
Unfortunately, organizations are like organisms, they will not live forever. Young’s Chapel AME Church has been sold, the building will transfer ownership, the small number of remaining congregants will either move on to unite with another struggling church to form a brand new congregation, or individually decide to do something else. While I know the church mourns the past and probably even feels defeated, guilty, angry and many other emotions, I am certain that the remnant can be used by God to inspire, encourage, and uplift, current and future generations with new and exciting ministries, programs, and activities. Many of the people who helped mold and shape me are still in that congregation! I know they have something to offer that others need and are longing and looking for.
As the members of a dying church watch it slowly slip away before their eyes I can imagine they feel like the Psalmist David in the 13th Psalm constantly asking God— HOW LONG? Four times in just two verses the question is repeated— How long? HOW long? HOW Long? HOW LONG?
How long will the pews be empty? How long will the budget be tight? How long will the building need repairs that we can’t afford to repair? How long will the children grow up and stop attending? How long will the congregation shrink? How long will each and every Sunday move us further and further away from our glorious “good old days?” How long will we try and fail? How long will we pray and cry? How long will we feel like we are in over our heads? How long will we feel defeated? How long God? Will you forget us forever?
Sometimes those who stay in the church, work in the church, and give their all to a church, all while working through their own pain, grief, worries, turmoil, issues and the like can feel as if the situation is bad and won’t get any better— How long? Sometimes they feel helpless or even frustrated that others have left and thus have betrayed those who stayed— How long? Sometimes it feels as if all of the hard work was in vain, a waste of time, all for naught… HOW LONG?
Watching an organization that you love slowly slip away before your eyes is equal to witnessing a loved one suffer a slow death. How long can I witness the hemorrhaging? How long will I be able to lie to myself that things will turn around? How long will I pray and cry to seemingly no avail? How Long? How Long? HOW Long? HOW LONG?
David wrote this Psalm beginning with his distress— How Long? How Long? How Long? HOW LONG? Four times in two verses he asked— How Long? No! He wasn’t asking the Almighty for a specific timeline, he was actually pleading, crying out, and dramatizing the sentiment that he could no longer endure the agony, sorrow, and grief. HOW LONG? Have you ever felt like you just couldn’t do it anymore, or any longer? Have you ever felt hopeless and helpless? HOW LONG?
Next, the Psalmist moves from rhetorical calls of How Long? to actually asking God for help— Consider and answer me… Give light to my eyes… In other words in his distress David asked God to intervene. Beloved, please understand that God can and will intervene in your How Long? Moments. There is still a balm in Gilead! The battle is still not yours- it is God’s. All things will still work together for your good through God who still loves you! If you ask you shall still receive; if you seek you shall still find; if you knock doors shall still be opened unto you! You are still the head and not the tail! You are still above and not beneath! You are still blessed, still anointed, still called, and still justified! Sometimes in our how long? moments its easy for us to forget that God is still in control! Sometimes it’s hard for us to realize and recognize that the Holy Spirit is still moving… But baby you gotta hang in there and remember and know that you can still Go to God for help! What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31, KJV)
It may not always feel like it but God will never leave you in the valley of the shadow of death by yourself— God’s rod and staff still comforts! Tables will still be prepared for you in the presence of your enemies. Your head is still anointed! Your cup still runs over!
It may not always feel like it but goodness and mercy still follows you all the days of your life! Don’t get stuck in the How longs of life but move forward into asking God for help, and trusting God to do it!
David moves from “How Long?” to “Consider/help me!” to “But I trust in your unfailing love… because he has dealt bountifully with me.” The New International Version reads, “because he has been good to me!”
Friends, do not get stuck in the grief, sorrow, and sadness that you feel as the building known as Young’s Chapel African Methodist Episcopal church closes. What I know for sure is that the building is not the church— the people are the church. Our ancestors are the church! Our love, kindness, and spirit’s are the church. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands… (2 Corinthians 5:1, KJV)
That building was just a building— the building may close but the ministry lives on! Do not allow today’s grief to impede tomorrow’s blessing. The building is gone but the truth of your ministry remains! The building where you were baptized may be gone, but your baptism truth remains. You are a changed creature, a chosen generation, and a royal priesthood! The building where you gave your life to Christ is gone, but your salvation remains! You still have a friend in Jesus! He still walks with you and talks with you! He will still be with you always even until the end of the world!
Now you have a new opportunity to build new ministries, programs, and activities in your new space, with another group of saved, baptized, and grieving folk who had to say goodbye to their building as well. It’s okay to be sad, but don’t get stuck in the sadness! Don’t get stuck in the drama of How long? How Long? HOW Long? HOW LONG? “Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling” (Philippians 3:13-14, KJV).
Ask the savior to help you and trust God to do it because God has been good to you in the past!
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39, KJV)
I know that you are sad! I know that you may feel defeated! I know that you may feel upset or helpless as you watch something important to you close it’s doors forever; however, understand that God has not closed your church—God has put you in position to do something that you have not done in a long time—THRIVE! You now have the opportunity to start new ministries, programs, and services that reach beyond the congregation into surrounding communities. God has given you a new wineskin and your job is to not put old wine into it! You have a new opportunity to help new people, share new experiences, and witness new mercies! Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19, KJV)
March into you new church with a willing spirit, a renewed fervor, and an energized commitment to learn from past errors and perceive the new thing that God wants you to inspire and execute! Do a good work! Save souls! Preach the gospel! Feed the hungry! Clothe the naked! House the homeless! Cheer the fallen! Administer to the needs of the disenfranchised, un-churched, de-churched, rejected, and dejected individuals and families who have long been forgotten by other churches.
I know you may be hurting, but harness that energy and redirect it to do a good work in your new space with your new congregation! Read church growth books! Assess the needs of the community and seek to meet those needs! Sing new songs! Preach new sermons! Start new ministries! Print new bulletins! Look at the printed material that you distribute, if it is not of the same graphic quality of the advertisements you receive in your mailbox from other companies— it’s outdated and needs to change. Hire a graphic artist. Start a street and social media team. Deliver sermons that are short, powerful, meaningful, real and relevant! Shorten your worship service. Reach the current age! This is 2017 not 1971! Do a new thing! It must be real and relevant to reach the masses! Revitalize the youth department! Reorganize the Church School! Install services, programs, and activities in the community— don’t just sit back and wait for people to come to you— GO TO THEM!
Don’t let the death of our beloved Young’s Chapel be in vain— start fresh, new and exciting work that reaches beyond “what we’ve always done!” Radical change is necessary to bring about radical growth and progress. For the last fifteen years the members of the church have cried out in agony desperate for change— “How long?” The Almighty has answered your prays, and through your pain and grief vibrant and viable change can occur if you are willing to prayerfully really change, really work, really plan, and really seek to the do work of the church—not the work of being a property manager or the work of a fundraiser— but go about the work of saving souls and changing lives! Seek ye first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness and you will build a thriving ministry! Trust in God! Not to save a building or a church, but to empower you to be a life-saving station for all those who need the ministry that you can, AND MUST offer! Today is not the end— it is the beginning. It is the start of an opportunity to be the church that God needs you to be! God needs a collective group of people working to expand the kingdom of God through prayers, service and faithfulness! And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not! (Galatians 6:9, KJV) Because it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him (1 Corinthians 2:9, KJV).
Why do you cry? He has risen! Why are you weeping, He’s not dead! He is still in control! Trust yourselves to trust God and watch God work miracles through your gifts and your new church! Trust God! You can do it! With God all things are possible!