On Sunday morning, I sat in the big chair in the altar area of Grace United Methodist Church on Ponce De Leon in Midtown Atlanta. The bright lights shined in my eyes, but I could still see my Christian friends in the pews and as my gaze rose higher, I centered my attention on the stain glass windows in the balcony.
It will be a few weeks from the close of the iconic church of 150 years of service to people in midtown Atlanta.
As Rolanda Salazar played the opening song on the piano, I sat in the big chair and ready myself to read the opening Scripture in the existence of Grace UMC.
I looked at Pastor Sara Webb Philips, who has been a marvelous shepherd guiding her flock during this turbulent period of time and thought of the coming end of the Grace UMC era.
We are Christians with names and not nameless and definitely not faceless people.
My mind wondered as I thought of Richard and Della Black, Rev. Sanders, Mr. Bill, Susan, Bess, David, Mr. Thompson, Judy, Jonathan, Stephen and many of the people still living and long gone and with our living Lord Jesus Christ in Heaven.
I have been a member of this church for thirty years and now the doors will be closed and morphed into Cascade Midtown.
This church has seen me grow mentally, physical and morally in life as a resident of the Atlanta metro area since I returned in 1987.
This church has been my solace and comfort through the loss of my mother, my physical illnesses and financial downturns in my life.
When the terrorists killed those faithful servants, a few years ago, in Charleston, South Carolina, I was able to express my grief in a Blog I wrote.
I read, the blog, in front of the entire congregation. The reading emotionally moved people.
I am now able to speak confidentially before crowds of people, because I was able to stand up and express myself without ridicule.
Grace has been a place that has seen me grow in both confidence and Christian Faith. A Church is more than a building, but filled with caring people in a world dominated with hate, greed, selfishness and destruction of human potential.
Grace is a beacon of hope and growth toward God and his plans for our relationship with people on earth.
These last few weeks have been a slow drip of pain and slow burn of anguish as a critical part of my spiritual life ends.
Now, others from the new “Cascade Midtown: will sit in the pews with different names and not the 30-year friends that have been so well known.
We are remnants of Grace’s former Christian glory. For decades thousands attended the Sunday church Service and many more thousands watched on television.
I remember attending morning and Evening Services and watched the gradual decline in attendance.
Cascade Midtown, this building with the same stain-glass windows will bring in new people with a different attitude.
As I walk through the back Hallways, filled with memorabilia of Grace’s past 150 years, there is tug at my heart. I turn from side to side and see what we as a church accomplished, now it is only memories collecting dust.
This will not be the same church as friends, memories and a special connection with Jesus will end in Mid-May 2022.
I read about this happening to other churches across America, but never thought it would happen to my beloved Grace United Methodist Church in Midtown Atlanta.
Each Sunday, until the last Sunday of Grace’s existence. It seems I am living in a dirge and procession of ever-ending “LASTS”: Last Easter, last Mother’s Day, last scripture reading, etc.
This as the last Easter Sunday and Mother’s Day at Grace UMC.
There is a sadness in the eyes of those who remain to see the doors open and close each of the closing services at Grace. The last service of Grace looms like a giant shadow that only God can break with the sunshine of hope.
In my life I have seen many openings and closings, but this hurtssss deep down in my soul. Grace has been the anchors that has held me in a solid place when the storms of life have rocked my existence.
Now, the anchor is uprooted, and a new Church home must be found in the later years of my life.
Where will I place my anchor?
I received a letter to answer questions as a “Legacy Member” that my homegoing can be held at Grace, but will it be Grace?
With the name of “Cascade Midtown” on the building, that you can see from the traffic stoplight at North Avenue and Ponce De Leon, is this really my church?
When reading literature, I remember what Ms. Marple said as she surveyed how Bertram’s Hotel had not changed: “The essence of life is Change.”
We must come to grips with Life which is full of “beginnings and endings.” This is just another phase of life.
When I read the Scripture from the Book of Romans, I looked at my friends in the pews and realized that we must all move on and we will only feel relief when we are in our Heavenly Home.
As Tiny Tim said in the novel, A Christmas Carol, “God Bless Us one and all.”
However, there are still tears in my eyes and there will be many more tears when I walk out the doors of Grace United Methodist Church for the last time.
My hope is Cascade Midtown will be a beacon of hope and compassion and a place for “Christian Spiritual Growth” in the Future.
Goodbye to my Thirty-Year Friend: Grace United Methodist Church!
Wonderful remarks, Brother Julius…change is hard. But I am confident u can be one of those from Grace’s past that can help a new generation feel a deep connection with the space and Christian communuty that will carry on and grow there! God will delight in that!
As I struggled to read your eloquent “goodbye to your thirty-year friend”, I could not help but identify with your pain and uncertainty. Even though I have not been a part of the Grace family as long as you have, my heart aches just the same for my immense loss. Thank you for sharing your thoughts regarding this matter. We share the same hurt for how our lives were so callously, unilaterally and thoughtlessly uprooted. I will always cherish my Grace family and remain in contact to the best of my ability.
Thanks, Julius. Touching. Pastor Sara