I have been asked several times lately if I have a liturgy for the closure of a church building. In many traditions the prayer of closing a building is described as reconsecrating – in the Presbyterian tradition we only commission a building for a purpose and decommission it when the time comes for it to be moved on.
This does seem to be a season of moving on. The decline of many traditional expressions of church life has led to the letting go of church buildings. Some of the very important church buildings in my formation have been let go and I miss them, yet I also look forward to what the new day brings.
The following prayer was prepared for the decommissioning of St Stephen’s Church where I work as we prepared for the demolition and the new building now being erected. The Christchurch earthquake was the instigator of this change! I then adapted it for the decommissioning of the church building that Anne and I have purchased in rural South Canterbury.
Prayer of thanksgiving and decommissioning
We give you thanks for the life of the Gospel in this community through the worship life in the commissioned ____________ Church.
We give thanks
for the Word proclaimed in Spirit and in Truth,
the prayers prayed,
the songs sung, the singers and the musicians,
the bread and the wine,
the water and the children,
the teachers and the preachers,
the confirmations & affirmations,
the marriages and the promises,
the funerals and the comfort,
the laughter, the tears, the hopes and the fears, and the sighs too deep for words.
Such things turn a building into a house of worship.
Such things make the distance between heaven and earth seem slight.
The Lord loved,
a people shaped,
the kingdom life lived,
bread for the world,
light in the darkness,
salt in the city/valley,
grace to the stranger,
hope for the world.
Lord we give thanks that what has taken place in this house of worship
has sent ripples of hope into the community, things we know of and much hidden from us,
yet signs nevertheless of your love that has led us out
to serve as we have been served
to love as we have been loved
to forgive as we have been forgiven
to trust that God has used us despite our shortcomings.
Today while we acknowledge the passing of the season of this house of worship
we pray that your hand will continue guide us and bless us in the new season upon us.
Help us to be attentive to you as we seek to serve you in this community.
In the quiet we reflect on our time in this building
and we remember with gratitude those who we have sat with who are no longer with us…
[a moment of silence]
With a clear understanding that our God is not confined to buildings made by human hands, we the people of this church and community, grateful for our heritage and mindful of the sacrifices of those who have gone before, dedicate ourselves anew to the service of God in Spirit and Truth, and to the service of all people in the spirit of Christ, as we decommission _________________ Church in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and pray the prayer Jesus taught us