On the closing of MCC San Jose

I served as the Senior Pastor of MCC San Jose from December 1, 2003 until April 4, 2010. I was followed by Rev. William Knight, who served the church in 2010 & 2011, and Rev. Rebecca Anderson, who was pastor in 2011 & 2012. Following a congregational vote in early 2012, the church decided to close. Its final service was on February 26, 2012.

Here are my answers to some questions that people have asked me about the church and its decision to close.

What happened?  Why did the church close?  Who is to blame?

In recent years, the patterns of worship have been changing. This is something that is happening not only in MCC, but in many other types of churches: Methodist, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical, Conservative, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, etc. The trend is towards larger churches, or away from church altogether. As a result, small churches of every type have been closing in recent years.

Metropolitan Community Churches have been particularly affected by this. Small churches in other denominations often have well-established endowments or historic investments in real estate which help support their current operations. Metropolitan Community Churches usually do not have these sorts of resources. This means that the trend away from smaller churches, present in every denomination, is particularly pronounced for Metropolitan Community Churches. Of the sixteen Metropolitan Community Churches operating in MCC’s Northwest District Region A in the year 2000, only five were still open at the end of 2011. Of those original sixteen churches, MCC San Jose is the twelfth to close.

I don’t think there’s anyone to “blame” for the closure of these churches. They were good churches, with good congregations and good pastors. They simply reached the end of their natural lives.

Does this mean all Metropolitan Community Churches are doomed?

Larger churches are still doing well. Each church has its own pattern, and there is no reason that healthy older churches or healthy new churches should not continue to be vibrant communities. Some of these trends are probably also geographic – small churches may be doing better in other parts of the world than they are doing in the Pacific Northwest.

Across all denominations, I believe that there will continue to be healthy small churches. Some people like small churches and will continue to seek them out. With this said, the current social trends lead me to believe that there will be fewer small churches in the future than there are now.

How do you feel?

Lent is a season of mourning for me this year.

Rev. Rebecca Anderson invited me back for MCC San Jose’s final service, and she did a great job of leading the church through this final transition. At the closing service, I was struck once again by what a special place MCC San Jose is, and now was. I am sad that this unique and wonderful community is gone.

I am grateful for the time that I got to serve at MCC San Jose’s pastor and grateful that I got to be a part of such an extraordinary congregation. We did amazing things together – transforming individual lives, serving the wider community, and creating music, writings, liturgies and videos that made a difference in the lives of thousands of people all around the world. I don’t regret a minute of the time that I spent at MCC San Jose. I’m sorry that it’s over, and I’m deeply grateful that I got to be a part of it.

 

3 Comments

  • By Rev. John Magisano, March 11, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    Thank you Rev. Ellard. What a lovely, heartfelt post. I too am grieving for the fate of the small church. However, I feel that the trend may reverse itself in some cases when people no longer find the intimacy they may need in large churches. My church, a nondenominational congregation with about 60 members and attendance of 20-25, has been roughly the same size for 35 years. We have been lucky to have relatively cheap rent in a historic Episcopal church and employ only a music director and a pastoral counselor (me) on a part-time, stipended basis. We have some small endowments from members who have passed on which helps. But we also are getting a few “refugees” from larger churches who are finding comfort in our smallness and intimacy. I can’t say if our model is replicable, or even sustainable over the long haul. But I am pleased that we can be an alternative when people come in and say they felt “invisible” in the larger churches.

    Anyway, I do mourn with you the closure of MCC San Jose. I have never been there but it sounds like it was a groundbreaking ministry. Hopefully it will live on and reincarnate people’s hearts and in other forms. Blessings!

  • By Rev. Edwin Yates, March 12, 2012 @ 4:59 am

    Rev. Michael,
    I pray with you and all those former members of MCC San Jose.
    MCC of Flint is recreating itself at this time as the have been much as Rev. John Magisano described his pastorate. Thirty-five years and they never got larger than 50 with average attendance of 25 or so.
    AS they decided a few years ago they were not going to close, I was re-called to ‘re-emerge’ this church into something growing larger and more inclusive of all. The former congregation(most who have chosen to leave) refused to accept inclusion of all G-D’s people and creatures. Those who have stayed and are wanting to grow have expressed how much they are enjoying the newness, growth and are motivated to do outreach so that we will not only sustain but thrive in the future. They have finally accept that ‘everything is possible to the one who believes.
    Blessing on your journey and the journeys of those from MCC San Jose.

  • By Sharon E. Cathcart, March 12, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

    Dear Rev. Mike:

    Thank you so much for this reflection. I am, like so many, still in the mourning process even as I try to determine my own next steps on the post-MCCSJ spiritual journey.

    I will always be grateful to you for the warm welcome you extended to me, for all of the support you have given me.

    With much love and many blessings,
    Sharon

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