The town of Cambridge, NY is northeast of Albany, nearer the Vermont border. This Pentecost Sunday, June 8, was the last worship service for the First Baptist Church of Cambridge, founded in 1843. The few remaining congregants joined with members of the Presbyterian and Community Church of the town for "a beautiful day of reflection, grief, laughter, music and thanksgiving." The Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, a Baptist minister living in Albany, shared his reflections with the worshippers that day. His thoughts will resonate with anyone who has experienced the loss of a church or ministry.
(Pastor Hugenot posted his message in his blog Preaching and Pondering, and it was picked up on Facebook by Congregational Seasons. His remarks have been shortened for reposting here.)
In rural England, you encounter a variety of old churches, built many years ago and part of the charm tourists find on vacations where they leave the hustle and bustle of London and the other great cities for the open fields and beauty of the English countryside. In the small village of East Coker in the southern part of Somerset, the village church is the final resting place of a noteworthy poet.
The ashes of T.S. Eliot, the celebrated 20th century poet, are interred there with a plaque that reads: “In my beginning is my end. Of your kindness, pray for the soul of Thomas Stearns Eliot, poet. In my end is my beginning.”
Part of the plaque’s text is drawn from Eliot’s own poetry. We hear two lines: “In my beginning is my end.” and “In my end is my beginning.” The first line “In my beginning is my end” would be the most logical sounding of the two. We understand that life begins and it ends. Despite our best medical treatments and procedures, we cannot get out of death alive. Our beginning must have an ending, enough said.
Like the humans worshipping within its four walls, even churches come to an end. Yet as we mourn the closing of First Baptist, Cambridge, we also realize that there’s no “final word” on this day’s events until God has given it. For even as the doors will close, the building will cease to be the gathering place of a congregation that will disperse, a good number of things will come to pass well beyond this moment.
“In my end is my beginning”, boldly states the poet’s epitaph. So the church members will disband yet join up with other area congregations.
“In the end is my beginning”, so shall the church building and grounds become something new and hopefully continuing in its service to the community.
“In the end is my beginning”, so shall the church’s physical and financial assets live on in service through the congregation’s legacy building investments in the future of this community and the Gospel.
We celebrate this day that Pentecost is not a day’s events from long ago. We celebrate the tremendous winds of the Spirit of God always moving in the midst of the people of God. The places of worship may ebb and flow, open and close, yet the worship of God never ceases. The membership may rise and fall with one parish roll, yet the Body of Christ is always growing with abundance.