A prayer for survival rose from the back of the church last Sunday.
“I pray for this church, getting through this age-discrimination thing,” said William Gackstetter, as the gray-haired heads around him nodded in agreement.
Gackstetter and other members of the Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove are upset enough that their church is closing in June. What makes it worse is that their church is reopening in November — pretty much without them.
The church wants to attract more young families. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else. A memo recommends that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.
Officials say the church needs a reset, and reopening the church is the best way to appeal to younger people.
But the older church members say they see that as an insult. “This is totally wrong,” said Gackstetter’s wife, Cheryl. “They are discriminating against us because of our age.”
After the plan was explained by a visiting pastor on Jan. 5, she said, “I called him a hypocrite. I said, ‘You are kicking us out of our church.’ ”
The answer is a new appeal to younger families. “Jesus said we are called to reach new people,” said Wetterstrom.
He said that Methodists’ regional Annual Conference is paying $250,000 to restart the church. They have hired a specialist in starting new churches — Jeremy Peters.
Peters, 30, has moved to Cottage Grove with his wife and two children. He is working with community groups, laying the groundwork for the relaunch, probably in November. “It’s a new thing with a new mission for a new target,” said Peters, “and a new culture.”
The older members will not be physically barred from attending, said Peters. But the expectation is that they will not.
“We are asking them to let this happen,” said Wetterstrom. “For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people.
Church leadership has suggested the present-day members could be welcome if they supported the youthful new identity of the church. “If they are on board with that, they are welcome to attend and engage,” said Peters.
But not all of those members feel welcome. “The past few weeks have seen confusion, anxiety and anger,” said member Ron Purcell, as he opened the Jan. 12 service.
The 35 people in the pews listened, their faces grim. The service continued with a 6-year-old recorded sermon, and a puppet show by church founder Baker.
[TBC: A group seeking to be inclusive by excluding some has nothing to do with the Lord’s pattern for the Church.]