Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pastor Finds Empty Church on Easter Sunday

Gerald Calvin, Staff Writer

As she does every Sunday morning at around 9:00, Joanna Terry was putting the finishing touches on her sermon. This Easter sermon was to be a mixture of joy and sorrow for the pastor of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Seattle. The church is an old one and has been serving downtown Seattle for 82 years. Like many other downtown churches across the land, however, the congregation of St. John’s has experienced a steady decline.

The sermon Terry was to preach this Easter morning was the one to announce the death of the church. She would tell the people that their service to the community was laudable, but the time had come to let go. There was no more life in the church.

Terry never preached that sermon. She arrived about ten minutes before the service--her usual time--in order to avoid the inevitable distractions of parishioners telling her about burnt out light bulbs or dirty restrooms. Something seemed odd, however, as she approached. There were even fewer cars than usual in the parking lot. She did not see the car of the head usher, and wondered if anyone had even opened the front door to the church.

Terry pulled on her robe as she entered the sanctuary. She stopped immediately, stunned. She checked her watch, and indeed, it was nearly 10:00am, the start time for worship. But no one, not one soul, not even old Mrs. Parker, a woman who had sat in the same pew every Sunday for 73 years, was present. The building was completely empty.

The 47-year-old pastor looked around and finally saw a well-dressed man standing near the piano. He said to her, “I’ll bet you are looking for your people. Well, they aren’t here.” He nodded toward the front door and said, “They all left. I’ve never seen a bunch of folks with so much energy. They were alive.” Terry said that the man emphasized the word “alive” so sharply that a chill went down her spine.

The man continued, “Don’t you remember how they told you they were going to leave this place? At that last meeting they said they were tired of waiting around for the leaders to do something about the Gospel, and they were just going to go.”

Terry says she did remember something like that, but, as she went back to her office, she tried to figure out what to do next. Her seminary training never prepared her for anything like this. She called her good friend and colleague, Carl Goodrich, a pastor in a nearby suburb.

“I told Carl he would never believe what had just happened,” Terry said in an interview later that day. “And, of course, he didn’t believe it. He came right over to see for himself. We walked around in that big empty sanctuary. Nothing was left but Emma Townsend’s sweater.”

Mondays are Terry’s days off, and when Tuesday comes, she is not sure what she will do. “I suppose I’ll go back to the office,” she said. “I’ll just do what I know how to do. And there is a report I need to finish.” She paused, and her eyes misted over. “Maybe they’ll come back and see me.”

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The Beatles' song Eleanor Rigby comes to mind...

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