People change the way they act, look and view the world, and sometimes they try and stop those changes. Change can be either positive or negative. It can be accepted or rejected.
Things are changing in Auburn. Westminster Presbyterian Church was built in a different place than it stands right now. Yes, it stands in the exact physical place where it was built, but no one can deny that this is a completely different city than when this building was built. Why? Because people change, communities change and the world changes. If the people change and the city has changed, then we can only come to one conclusion: The church must have changed. Has it? It has.
Westminster Presbyterian Church is a big, beautiful building. It was built for all to see. It screams "look at me, come worship God here." It is a gorgeous historical landmark. People come from all over to view the Tiffany window, to learn the history and to admire the building. It is a glorious church that was built in the downtown area. It is a sight to behold.
There are members here who gaze up at this building, longing for what once was because it was such a memorable time, a joyous time, a time like no other in their lives. And that’s OK, because we all reminisce about something that made us feel such joy in our younger years.
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The question then becomes: Are the people changing too fast, and has the church changed enough and will it change fast enough to keep up? The church is preparing. This church is evolving. The church is undergoing an evolution because people are changing, and the church is made of people.
What are some of the things that help to see evolution? People come to this church’s door often. They are in need. If we don’t have what they need, this church will direct them to the organizations to get what they need. Signs on our lawn. Signs. Signs. Signs. Everyone in this city knows the love and equality this church stands for. All people are God’s children. All people are loved. The community outreach is amazing. Many people in this city have no idea how far the caring arms of this church stretch and how many hurting people in this city those church arms hold. People have made their way into the church with either paranoid mental health issues or drug issues or both. They saw these buildings as a sanctuary until they felt it safe and left without issue. We have security cameras now because of stolen property and property damage. These are just a few changes to protect the church and heal the pain of city residents.
There was a phrase being thrown around a couple of years ago within the walls of Westminster. At first, it was not an appropriate label on this church, but there has been an evolution. Westminster is evolving from a church that is located downtown into a “downtown church." That’s the term, “downtown church." Some will love it, and some will not. Here’s the thing. It cannot be stopped. It is happening. It is the very thing that is going to keep the church’s heartbeat in sync with the people’s heartbeat, with the city’s heartbeat.
There are people hanging out on the church benches. People are sitting on the church steps. This did not happen five years ago. Some people are from soup kitchen lines. Some look tired and need to sit and rest. Regardless of what is happening in their lives, they need some sort of tranquility, and they find it on those benches. Many are searching for a church that accepts them as they are, as they are differently abled, as their trauma has left them, for whom they love or identify, or any other reason another church closed the doors to them.
We are evolving into what is called a downtown church. The beauty of a downtown church is different from that of the church built downtown. The downtown church lives and breathes at the foot of the cross. It’s a place where we have no option but to become one with the pain. It’s a place where we cannot live without the unity and loyalty to Jesus. Flowers don’t always grow here. The beauty appears different. It’s a place where we have no other option than to welcome all and love all just as they are.
Kimberly Patch is a graduate (M.A., Master of Divinity) of Northeastern Seminary. She is an inquirer for ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, under the care of Westminster Presbyterian Church. She lives in Auburn with her husband and children. She is also a foster mother, a social justice advocate and president of the board of directors of the new Auburn Hunger Task Force, which is working to provide free daily meals to the Auburn community. For more information, visit westminsterauburn.org.