As one of a dozen or so parishioners remaining in a South Buffalo church, it was painful to hear the protests when we began talking about closing its doors forever. "But I was baptized in this church." "My children grew up here." "My parents donated that window."
Visions of the building standing alone -- empty and neglected with rain water finding its way through the roof's fissures and birds building nests in the steeple -- alarmed us. We worried that no one would claim the place that meant so much to us for so long.
The cornerstone on the small white church said "1901." Founded by Germans who settled in the area, anecdotal stories hint that more than one keg of beer was distributed to the volunteer builders to urge them to keep working. An unobtrusive building, it was tucked back among modest houses, and as we came out of the service on summer Sunday mornings, neighbors gave us friendly waves from porches across the street.
As it approached its 100th year, the building showed wear and tear. The front door cracked, the window boxes sat forlorn and empty. During a fierce winter storm, the stately tree in the front yard came down, and there it lay for a couple of years until the city finally toted it away.
Inside, the building declined as well. The kitchen, not being used, seemed to rust in place. Wind blew through the caulking in the stained-glass windows.
The time came when the faithful few who showed up each Sunday prayed through the decision that said, "We cannot afford the high heating bills one more winter." And so we went through the painful chore of cleaning out church closets. Every week after service, another box was resurrected and its treasures unfolded. Here is the traveling communion set, there, the green altar cloths.
Tucked in one of the last boxes was the beloved Christmas nativity set. Seeing it brought back the memories of the many Christmas Eves when the children of the church had the honor of setting each ceramic piece in exactly the right spot. There was an awkward pause. Who would get to enjoy this memento under his own tree? Finally, one family carefully wrapped Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in tissue paper and took them home, while another took the wise men and the shepherds.
Hardly had we told anyone about our decision when a house church in the Southtowns contacted us wanting to see the building; they might like to move into it. In the simplest of real estate dealings, the newcomers took over.
Feeling nostalgic one Sunday, several of us went back to visit our old church. Welcomed warmly and receiving a tour, we were astonished at the changes. The front door was replaced, the pews were refinished and the sanctuary floor was polished to a high gloss. We were sad to see the stained-glass windows gone, but the sunlight pouring through the clear glass made everything shine inside.
During the worship service that morning, the music was magnificently sung with the congregation -- a harmony-filled a cappella choir at its very best. Singing without musical accompaniment, the 50 plus voices became their instruments.
Leaving the service filled with joy and good feeling, we knew that we had indeed been in a sacred space. What had we worried about? Our little building was bursting again with vibrant new life. And most importantly, somebody loved our church as much as we had.