On April 14, 2019, the congregations of Parkway United Church of Christ and Robbinsdale United Church of Christ adopted resolutions to consolidate the two churches and to call their current pastors, Kathy Itzin and T. Michael Rock to serve the consolidated church as its co-pastors. We have been discussing and planning for this event for a very long time; it was, literally, years in the making. As we prepare to write Parkway’s next chapter, I’ve been thinking a lot about where Parkway has been and where we’re going.
Like all institutions that have managed to survive, Parkway has adapted with the times. We are able to trace a proud history back nearly 150 years, through the congregations of Pilgrim Congregational, Forest Heights Congregational, Fremont Congregational, Pilgrim Heights Community Church, and St. John’s Evangelical and Reform. Parkway not just survived, but thrived, through transformative changes. However, like many mainline Protestant churches, Parkway has seen its membership and its financial resources shrink. Within the memory of people still with us, on Sundays our parking lot used to be full of cars and our Sunday school would be full of kids. But you need only look at the annual confirmation pictures that hang upstairs, with dozens of kids being confirmed annually in Parkway’s earliest years, dwindling to one or two kids every other year or even less frequently lately, to see a vivid demonstration of the long, slow decline in Parkway’s membership. Fewer members has meant fewer pledges, even as our expenses increased.
But even though our size has diminished, our commitment has not. We are small but mighty. We have continued to minister to our neighborhood, through our support of St. Anne’s Place, serving meals at Clare Housing, hosting families with Families Moving Forward, and innumerable other ministries. We have continued to minister to our congregation, through Sunday worship, our incomparable music program, Bible study, book groups, meditation meetings, youth activities, and more. Think about how Parkway has touched your life in the last five years.
Facing reality, we came up with a number of strategies to get our financial house in order. We cut our budget to eliminate expenses, with staff compensation, utilities, and building upkeep being virtually the only things that we still pay for. We adopted various fundraising plans to increase our income, including a specific plan to incrementally increase pledges over a three-year period, garage sales, renting space to community groups, and the “Extra Mile” campaign, to which so many of you have generously contributed.
But it ultimately became clear that there was no realistic path to financial sustainability. Council convened a committee, consisting of Janet Holm, Kathy Itzin, Kevin Korell, Charlene Merz, Tom Ley, Lonnie Rose, Dianne Star, Mary Lou Stoltzfus, and Bob Thompson to explore options. In November 2017, the congregation voted to pursue consolidation with a local church. After that, we considered various potential partners and, after a period of discernment, ultimately concluded that our best option was also the closest. In June 2018, Parkway voted to formally invite Robbinsdale to consolidate with us as co-equal congregations to form a new church. Robbinsdale responded favorably to our invitation a few weeks later.
Since then, a consolidation team, made up of Diane Starr, Carolyn Hendel, Bob Thompson, and I from Parkway, and Lyle Latsig, Jim Puffer, Dan Haugen, and Heidi Waterhouse from Robbinsdale, assisted by Kathy and T. Michael, have been working, and will continue to work, through all of the many necessary details so that we can formally complete our consolidation on September 15. On that day, we will no longer be Parkway and Robbinsdale, we will be something new.
When my dad married my stepmother, Sue, I got two new sisters, Brooke and Cathi, in the bargain.
When I married Charlene, I gained a son, Travis, who has given me three beautiful granddaughters, Autumn, Haley, and Abby. When Molly married Jennifer, I got not only another daughter, but two more wonderful grandkids, Kaydin and Chloe. Family are the ones who have our backs and we have theirs. Family are the ones who show up. My dad used to say that you can never have too much family, and I guess that’s right.
I’m thinking of this impending growth of my church family in the very same way. In the past year, I’ve been blessed to get to know so many good people at Robbinsdale – people of good will and good faith and good intentions and good humor. I can’t help but be excited about having so many new brothers and sisters and about the things that we will accomplish together.
Consolidation! Two separate things joining together to become one! This is a big part of the Christian message. We are not separate beings, we are one family living in community with our brothers and sisters around the world. God doesn’t see divisions, God sees beloved relatives.
Seeing beloved relatives rather than separate congregations is our challenge, too. Letting go is hard. Moving is hard. It is difficult to join a new group composed of people we don’t yet know, who have different ways of doing things, while also moving to a new place. But We are part of the Christian message! We can risk following the call to new life, new family, and new loves. We don’t need to know exactly how things will turn out. We can trust that we can follow God, as well as we know, and end up where we need to be.
That is part of the mystery of Easter! We do what we need to do, and trust that God will bring us new life wherever we find ourselves. We can ‘die’ to old ways, and make way for the new. And we can trust God in the process. Congratulations, Parkway! We have discerned well, taken the next ‘next steps’ and remained open to the call to a greater good. A new congregation is forming. A new family calls. And God will give us many opportunities to form a new family of God’s beloved people!