Caring for our congregations: South Church, Rochester NY


I know this is probably going to sound
very simplistic, but the prayer that is the motto of South Church “put us where
you want us show us what to do” is what I pray. I think though that underlying South’s
ability to make this transition, there is a peculiar marriage of people who are
pragmatic, progressive and prophetic. I’m Gordon Rickner -and I’m Stena Rickner, we’ve been married 62 years in June. and she lived just down the street from South Church And he just lived – down the street – when I was just – don’t start on all the stories or we’ll never get out of here. Iknow, but it’s how we got hooked up! You went to South Church and I went to South Church, and we were dancing in the old basement and, you know one thing
led to another. We’re both singer and singing is a part
of our life. – I joined the church when I was 12, my confirmation, and so it’s,
we’re both only children, and so it was our family, and we were just accepted with a lot of loving people. There are so many memories of
course, we were married there, our kids were baptized there, got two boys, were
both married there in spite of fact it wasn’t the bride’s Church. My
mother was the organist for 35 years. We have several hundred people on the
Sunday and Easter we had – two services – two services, so that was the beginning of
the heyday of South Church. and then the Vietnam War happened and kind of tore us apart, we immediately lost many members, hundreds of people out of our
church. we were then down maybe 300 – 250, people were just left because the service wasn’t
doing it for them. And it was a steady decline from that point. they seem to have to – from the very beginning, been aware of the fact that we
cannot continue to financially support what we’re doing and what we’re doing is
not working, and I think the other thing that’s really important that South
has to offer as part of the model is that it is an amazing partnership of the
leadership of the church and the pastors. We were so blessed with our session,
those people – they had to pray, they prayed about everything, they prayed and prayed
and prayed – and Deb encouraged them too – yes, they got some there’s there was some
real wisdom there collectively that worked. We were in deep trouble. I’ve seen the
growth of a church designed like a bell-shaped curve. and we were curving at
the bottom which was frightening. When I was on the very first committee
that talked about that and even people in the committee said “leaving the
building is not an option.” The session is the ruling body, and I think that an
awful lot of our colleagues forget that, and they take the responsibility on
themselves and they take the blame on themselves and they take the praise on
themselves, and I will tell you right now that we are where we are because of the
session of South Presbyterian Church. We finally acknowledged that we don’t -we are
not donating our money making our pledge to support a building, and that’s where
the majority of our money was going. It’s a lovely building, holds memories for
so many of us, but it does not honor the people who built this congregation to
spend our money on the building, and let them let the congregation die, and that
was the bottom line. We could no longer pay the bills, and had to find a way to keep people together that wanted to be together. I know that our church leaders are
scared, not every church is meant to survive all the time, and I will feel
this way even if South has to close. I know that we have done
what we could do and God has another plan, and that’s okay.
I don’t live in the same house that I grew up in, I don’t look at life like I
did when I was in sixth grade, and our churches need to recognize that because
I think they’re playing it safe. You know Jesus didn’t play it safe, the
disciples didn’t play it safe, I think that’s really what the church should be
about is creating these environments where people can grow. – The big thing here
is that that Jesus didn’t say come to my church, he didn’t say that, he presented
the thing and he went out to the people! That’s what we’re doing now,
that’s what makes me feel so good about everything. – We have to make the
decision sooner we and I think the board of the Presbyterian Foundation, they
talk about a three-year runway, and I think that’s true, you’ve got to leave
yourself three years where you can make these changes and build in the time to
be successful. – You really have to look at your faith, that’s what this is all
about you know, this is why – this is not about bricks –
it’s not about bricks it’s not about mortar, you know, it doesn’t
mean anything about fixing this or fixing that, but do you believe , in our Lord for goodness sakes, if you didn’t believe that what
are you going to do? I love it I have, never been as excited or happy about anything, to people out there or afraid to take risks why not? Take a risk
because the good old days, as I’ve said, are gone, they are not coming back and for me
these are the good old days right now. The legacy of South is that we come from
a group of people who are willing to try something different.

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