To the Dying Church: Maybe Death Is a Blessing | Sojourners

To the Dying Church: Maybe Death Is a Blessing

By Kristin Hunley, via
By Kristin Hunley, via

To the Dying Church,

I hardly know what to say. Watching someone you love, who helped raise you, who cared for you when you weren't well, who partially defined who you would be, slowly perish before your eyes is difficult to say the least. I love you. I don't want to lose you.

But, this is life. These things happens. Those you love do die. It's just how it works. I mean, there were churches before you. They may not have looked like you or sung songs like you or taught exactly what you do, but they all had Love – just different ways of expressing it. They changed people's lives. They made some people better people and, sometimes, they made people worse people. Then, they died.

In all of it, Love was there somewhere hoping to be valued, hoping to be expressed, hoping to be shared.

Standing at the foot of your bed as you struggle to hold on, fight to catch a few last breaths, is uncomfortable and wonderful, all at the same time. Remembering the twinkle in your eye from my childhood, the liveliness of your step is as beautiful and heartbreaking a thing as I can think of in this moment.

Death sucks.

But, there's this one thing that you taught me. It's something that I think really, truly, deeply matters. In this moment, I don't think it could matter more: when there is God, when there is Love, there are no endings, only new beginnings.

I'm going to miss you – so much – but I refuse to mourn you. You will always be with me. The Love that has always sought to be known is still with us. The spirit that is the church will go on – thrive, even. It will just look different and sing differently and teach differently, but it will go on.

Because, while death sucks, Jesus taught us that it does not get to have the final word.

The reality is your reason for being, your very purpose, is to teach us about a living God. How marvelously playful and mischievous of God (and quite frankly, how very God-like of God) to figure out how to do that over and over again through a dying church. Like I said, this isn't the first time you've died you know. How perfectly upside-down of God to show us exactly how alive God is through a dying church.

I really will miss you, truly, but I must admit I cannot wait to see what you will become on the other side. I'm so excited just thinking about the folks who will find new life in your new life. I get just a bit giddy thinking about the new places and space that Love will be shared. I get overwhelmed with joyfulness just thinking about the new ways you will learn to share Love.

But, right now, I watch you on your deathbed and I hope to sort out how to be the one sharing that Love with you. You must be a little bit scared. I know I would be. You must worry about the work that's still to be done. I know it’s difficult, but try to trust in the work you've already done. You have planted some pretty remarkable seeds. Trust that they will grow in new and beautiful ways.

I love you. I do. I will be here with you until you are ready for what's next and then we will dance in those new fields and share Love in ways we've never imagined.

Maybe this kind of death is a blessing after all. It's so belovedly human to hold on so tightly to what we know that we constantly miss the opportunity to catch hold of something that might lead us to wider fields. How very God-like of God to make death the beginning of a blessing.

So, just know, I am here. We are here. You can let go. We will water the seeds. We will nurture the fields and then we can dance in them again, together.



Mark Sandlin currently serves as the minister at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, N.C., but is actively seeking a new call. He received his M. Div. from Wake Forest University's School of Divinity and has undergraduate degrees in Business Administration and English with a minor in Computer Science. He's an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and a self-described progressive.