A few years ago I wrote frequently on this blog about North Liberty Christian Church and its journey after being forced to sell its building, on land they’d occupied since 1839. At last, this congregation’s new building is complete. It was a long time coming.
The backstory: in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the church suffered two destructive splits, and members left in large numbers. By 2009, the offering no longer covered expenses, most of which involved heating and cooling an enormous building. I was an elder in this congregation by then, and I learned that we were burning through savings at an alarming rate. I wrote about our difficult decision to sell our building here. We got a great deal on a parcel of land on a main thoroughfare around the corner from us, and signed a contract with a builder to erect a small, simple building on the site. And then we ran into roadblock after roadblock, which I wrote about here, which depleted our cash to the point where we no longer had enough to complete the project.
Meanwhile, we worshiped in various hotel rooms until a church that had been our neighbor for more than 150 years, Bethel United Methodist Church, allowed us to use their old sanctuary (read about it here). We never imagined it would be three more years before we could move into our new building. I use “we” loosely, because a few months after moving to Bethel, my sons and I left North Liberty Christian Church. I wrote about why here.
I didn’t keep in touch with the people of North Liberty as well as I promised I would, but I did hear from them often enough to know that they walked a difficult road trying to find the funding needed to finish their building. The money slowly appeared and bit by bit the building was finished. This past Sunday was the first service, and they invited me to join them.
It was bittersweet to see everyone again. I loved the people of that congregation and leaving was difficult, which is part of the reason why I’d not kept in very good touch. I also felt some guilt about not walking that difficult road with them to this milestone. God had different service in mind for me, and I’m doing it now (read about it here). But I never quite shook the feeling I left business unfinished at North Liberty. Yet everybody welcomed me warmly and was glad I came.
God taught us a lot as we lost our home of 171 years and wandered unsure of whether our new building would ever be built, and indeed if we would even survive as a congregation. I’m sure God taught the people of North Liberty much more after I left, just as he has taught me much as he shared the mission he had in mind for me. What I’ve learned, and what I hope the people of North Liberty learned, is that there are milestones (such as new buildings) along the journey, but it remains a journey and frequently you can’t see what’s around the next bend. So we have to keep remembering that God is in control, and not worry.