From the time she arrived in 2013, the Rev. Jill McCrory had seen the congregation at Twinbrook Baptist Church, the progressive Baptist church she pastors, ebb and flow but never reach more than several dozen faithful in the pews that could hold far more.
So the multiracial, LGBT-affirming congregation in this Washington suburb made a tough decision: Its church will close.
But the more than $1 million from its sale will help 35 religious organizations and other nonprofits meet needs in the community. And the Hispanic congregation that long rented the building has bought it for less than its assessed value.
This weekend (Aug. 17-18), Twinbrook will hold a Saturday “legacy service” for the chosen grant recipients — from Baptist organizations such as the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists to a program at a local elementary school that helps feed students who can’t afford a nutritious lunch.
McCrory, 63, says her congregants and grant recipients will receive gifts of basil seeds as they leave special services and seek new places to worship and help those in need.
“What I’m saying, in the parting, is may this basil season your meals as we are seasoning the community around us,” she said of her upcoming last Sunday sermon at the church.
McCrory talked to Religion News Service about this time of transition for her congregation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How old is your church and how did it come to be on this corner of Rockville, Maryland?
The church is 63 years old. It was founded in 1956 by a group of people who had moved into the neighborhood. It was a brand-new neighborhood, and they were members of First Baptist Church of Bethesda, and they did not want to go as far as Bethesda to church. They wanted to walk to church. And so they formed a small group, and First Baptist made them a mission of their church and sent them one of their ministers. That was Rev. John Laney, and he became their pastor.
When was it that you started to realize that a hard decision had to be made about whether your church should close?
About two, two and a half years ago. We had attempted to re-energize the church. We threw the doors open wide, proclaiming us as a welcoming and affirming church. And we drew some folks, but bottom line, this church, I believe, was created for a certain time and a certain group. And, it just couldn’t outgrow that.
So we looked at several options: They could close down and re-emerge as a completely new church with a new name. They could try some different models of outreach or they could put themselves on life support with a part-time pastor until they dwindled down ’til they just handed the keys to somebody.
Why did the church decide to go the route it chose?
Because that was the fourth option — to go out with dignity and grace. Rather than serve ourselves and spend down all the assets and all the budget and then just have this building that you had too few people to be able to deal with — we didn’t feel like that was the right path. With the history of this church being so open and so generous and John Laney’s vision of a “fellowship of the concerned,” we felt that the appropriate thing to do was to close and sell the building and then gift out those assets, while we still had the energy, the capacity to do that.
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Source: Religion News Service