However, while Jesus’ church will never die, no such promise exists for individual congregations (as I described recently in what turned out to be a somewhat controversial article, Going, But Not Forgotten: A Tribute To Those Who Help Local Churches Die With Dignity).
Option 2: Board it up
As hard as it is to close a church’s doors, it’s always a better option than giving up, but going through the motions.
That’s what many hotels would have done if they’d been in the Europa’s shoes – board up the windows, but try to keep the hotel running.
The Europa didn’t do that because they knew you can’t run a hotel that way. And their example is an important one for local churches to follow.
Closing a church’s doors may be hard, but giving in to a siege mentality is unthinkable. And cowardly.
I know that’s harsh, but if you’re going to be a church, be the church. Otherwise, close it down, let its assets be used by another church, and move on to something else.
After all, the church has always been at its best, not when things are going smoothly, but when our backs are against the wall.
Option 3: Keep a standing order for new windows
According to the Irish Times, during the years when bombings were a regular occurrence at the Europa, “There was a standing order with a warehouse that had every pane of glass duplicated or triplicated, so they could be immediately replaced. ... Each time, the staff swept up the debris and carried on.”
What a lesson for the church.
No matter what attacks may come at us, no matter how frustrating it may be to feel like we’re always fighting an uphill battle, the church that Jesus promised he would build must always do more than just hang on and go through the motions. We must move forward in faith, strength and grace.
Keeping a standing order for new windows tells everyone on both sides of the conflict, “No, we don’t expect things to be easy, but we’re not giving up or giving in. We’re here to stay.”
While individual congregations may close, the church and our role in it must continue. We’re called to out-love the agents of destructiveness and keep the mission moving forward.
Strength In Weakness
Today, the Europa Hotel stands as a landmark in downtown Belfast. Every year it becomes a more vibrant symbol of the strength and courage of good people standing against and triumphing over violence and evil.