One of the sadder parts of my job is the closing of a congregation.

Grace Lutheran Church in Eagle Lake, Texas, was founded in 1935. Eagle Lake is a small town just south of Columbus and Sealy, Texas. The town has been in decline for many years.

The local Episcopal congregation has a worship attendance of about 40. The Roman Catholic congregation is supported by the diocese, and has about 80 in worship. Eighty is actually the average size of a congregation in the U.S., but it’s becoming harder for a congregation of that size to pay a pastor and maintain a building.

People tell me most congregations in the area are struggling.

When I visited Grace a few years ago there were about eight people in worship. At that time they told me that they would be closing up one day. That day has come.

It was a good turnout for the closing worship. Three of the former pastors were present and spoke. Walter Miller served 1956-1960. Charles Meyer served in the ’70s. Paul Krupicka got the call to Eagle Lake without even interviewing.

A small Latino Pentecostal congregation is considering buying the building. Several members of that congregation were present for the closing service. I visited a bit with the pastor, who is excited to get out of the storefront building that is leaking and into a building that is in relatively good condition, with a kitchen and a parsonage.

We grieve the closing of the congregation, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope.

We take great joy in the ministry of this congregation over the last 77 years. There have been many baptisms, Sunday school classes, confirmations, weddings and funerals.

Congregations have a lifecycle. Some live longer, and some live shorter. Very few of the churches to which Paul wrote still exist. Congregations change, but the gospel continues. Some members told me that they would be joining the Episcopal Church. Father Morgen of the local Episcopal congregation was present for the service, very gracious and promising to sing “A Mighty Fortress” every once in a while.

Other members told me that they would be following Bill Mosley, their current pastor, over to the Lutheran congregation in Wallis, Texas.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it bears much fruit.

When a tree in the forest falls to the earth, it fertilizes the soil bringing forth new life. The sale of Grace’s property will yield some income that may be given to the Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest to provide ongoing blessings for the local food pantry. I hope some will be given to fertilize new congregations.

With this blessing we ended the service: “With thanks to God for the work accomplished in this place, I declare Grace Lutheran Church of Eagle Lake to be closed, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

“May the witness of the people who have ministered here in the name of Jesus Christ continue to live on as they leave these walls and begin life in the new place. Amen.”

Originally posted Feb. 12, 2011, at Bishop Mike. Republished with permission of the author. Find a link to Michael Rinehart’s blog Bishop Mike at Lutheran Blogs.

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