One person’s gain often comes at the expense of another person’s loss.
Recently, the Town of Kearny’s accepted offer for the First Lutheran Church on Oakwood Avenue was made public. Both The Observer and The Jersey Journal published the news in celebratory fashion, announcing the town’s plans to turn the old church into an arts and recreational center.
Not everyone was celebrating this news, however. As a result of the closure of the First Lutheran Church and the acquisition of the property by the town, three families and a church of about 80 people need to relocate.
As the pastor of the church that has rented space in the church building for over three years, I was particularly disappointed with the news. Our growing congregation was excited about the prospect of remaining in the facilities and expanding our community involvement. We had a vision for a Portuguese-speaking outreach, an after-school program and ways to serve those in need.
Once we received word from the synod about the potential to purchase, our church got to work: we made the matter an item of regular prayer, we produced a video and website for fundraising, we printed a thousand postcards to raise awareness and we lined up meetings with potential donors. The owner assured us they would prefer the property remain a church.
We had only begun the process of raising support when I received a 60-day notice.
I agree with Mayor (Alberto G.) Santos’s observation regarding the unique aspects of the building — it “literally cries out for historical preservation” — but, what I would have rather preserved was the original intent for these facilities: a church where the Gospel is preached, the Bible is taught, prayers are offered and the love of Christ is communicated. Our mission seemed to be more in line with what the architect and the founding congregation would have desired.
All of us can resonate with the experience of disappointment: closed doors, unexpected detours, lost dreams. In this fallen world, such circumstances are normal. People will let us down. It’s okay to grieve. However, the way we process disappointment makes the difference in our attitude, our relationships and our hope for the future.
For months, I had been taking my church through a sermon series on the Book of Acts, which explores the early Christian church’s rapid spread amid persecution. One of the major takeaways from the series was our need to be adaptable to wherever God takes us. The only way to really be adaptable to our circumstances is to recognize God is sovereign and God is good. If these things are true about God, then we can have peace that all things — even disappointing things — are ultimately what is best.
Does that mean we can make sense of everything? No, but as one pastor recently told me, “God’s will is exactly what we would choose if we knew what he knows. I don’t have to figure it all out, but I can trust the one who holds our future in his hands.”
This next phase in our church’s life is an opportunity for me to practice what I preach. Christ’s church is not confined to any one building. Our hope is not in brick and mortar but in “the God who raises the dead.” Therefore, by faith, I can let go of any bitterness and trust God for where he may lead us next. I can truly and sincerely wish the Town of Kearny much success with their new arts and rec center.
I pray that all who read this will be encouraged to embrace disappointments as opportunities to trust in the One who is always good and orders all things according to his perfect will. In doing so, I pray you find peace and joy.
The author, Damien Garofalo, is the pastor of Bread of Life Fellowship of Kearny.