(May this, and I, be a resource. I’d be glad to correspond with anyone planning a church’s closing worship service.)
The closing service of this particular church I was shepherding, unusually, included Confirmation/ Affirmation of Baptism: 4 teenagers had taken years of instruction, but had not yet been officially “confirmed” and wanted to do that in this congregation which had formed them in the faith. Their faith statements ended up bearing testimony to how this congregation had shaped them.
There were multiple pastors who had served in this mission start’s 10 year history, some of whom would be present at the last, and some who would not: pastors, interim pastors, and pastoral interns. The bishop had encouraged me to not emphasize a “parade of pastors” doing all different parts of the service, because that could take away from the life of the congregation itself, (and, I noted, also provided more opportunities for someone to perceive a slight if their part was not as important as another). But most importantly, the former leaders of the congregation needed to be able to grieve too. Having only been there 2 months myself, I could facilitate that sacred space by leading, and crafting a small, meaningful way for the former leaders to participate, while everyone remembered their experiences together.
As some long-standing congregations close, the physical things used in worship and the building itself may be decommissioned. For us, worshiping in another congregation’s space, using their font, pulpit, etc, that was unnecessary. But the actions taken and the people of their congregational life certainly needed to be remembered. In this ritual at the end of the service, each former pastor, intern, or interim pastor led one petition of these prayers of thanksgiving, some of them reading lists of names. As the ritual began, each pastor took their place in a different part of the worship space near something that pertained to their part: baptismal font, pulpit, offering baskets, etc. I did the final prayer for individuals and situations in our world, before we all returned to our seats and the service concluded with a blessing/laying on of hands and final song.
Photo montage set to music
Thanksgiving for the Mission of Congregation Gracious God, you have inspired Congregation through the Power of Community to follow Jesus, act in the world and pass on the faith. We lift up with thankfulness those who have shared in its ministries of Word and Sacrament. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
The Word We give thanks, O God, for those who have preached at Congregation, called pastors, interim pastors, and especially those seminary students and interns prepared for service through this community. A list of names is read, of those who regularly preached and taught the Word at Congregation. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Holy Baptism Holy Spirit, this community has held the promises made by and for many baptized in our midst. Strengthen these your children, to continue living lives of faith. A list of names is read, of those who were baptized at Congregation.
Holy Communion Jesus, Bread of Life, you poured out your very self for all people. We celebrate the open table for the Lord’s Supper at Congregation. We give thanks for many have been nourished here through the bread and cup, but also through community that claims “All are welcome. No exceptions!” Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
The Big Give and The Drawer
We lift to you, Gracious God, the good work of the organizations supported through The Big Give. We humbly ask for your blessing on the continued work of The Drawer, providing new socks and underwear to people in need. Focus each of us on ways we might make a difference in the world, on our own and together. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for our world in need of the light of Christ: for communities recovering from disasters, especially in Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, California and Mexico. For those struggling with addiction, facing illness without health care, and communities oppressed by racism and poverty. We pray for those connected with Congregation in their time of need: ______________. Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Congregational Records In remembrance and with thanksgiving we hand over the documented history and official records that symbolize the joys and sorrows of the people of God in this congregation. Receive and preserve them so that the ministry of this congregation may be remembered. (I got this wording from another congregation’s closing service)
Declaration on Leave Taking With thanks to God for the ministry of this congregation, I declare Congregation’s Ministry of Word and Sacrament to be closed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May the light of your faith be undiminished and continue to shine as you leave this place. Amen. (I got this wording from another congregation’s closing service)
Those who wish may move to the center for a laying on of hands and blessing.
Blessing May Congregation’s ten years of light shine in your heart and mind all the days of your life.
May the joys and sorrows you experienced together guide your engagement in other faith communities. May the relationships and experience of community comfort and inspire you to share your lives in Christian love with others., May the Light of Christ shine through you wherever you go. Amen.