"Hear and believe this good news," he said. "Our help is in the name of our God who is continually making and re-making heaven and earth."
It was the opening of the closing service of Comstock Park Congregational-United Church of Christ.
Sunday November 22, 2020 was the official end date for this historic church on Lamoreaux Dr. NE whose roots go back more than a century.
Six weeks earlier the small-membership congregation made the decision to conclude its ministry. That's when DeBraber, a minister from their UCC denomination, came to help with the closing process.
And to lead members in their final worship. (You can read about the circumstances which led to the church closing in part one of this feature.)
DeBraber spoke to an empty sanctuary. COVID-19 restrictions kept people away, save for a technician operating the sound system and the church's Facebook Live feed.
That technician was Paul Sommer, who was also the church music and handbell ensemble directors, soloist, council president and historian.
In a small church, members wear a lot of hats.
LEAVING A LEGACY
The 38-member congregation did not go quietly through its final six weeks, even though overshadowed by the ongoing pandemic. Their closing date was on the schedule yet they still hosted an October "Trunk or Treat" event for neighborhood kids. And they decided that one of Sommer's church music groups – the Sonshine Singers – would continue its ministry singing in area nursing/retirement homes and perhaps other churches attended by former Comstock Park members.
Yet reality was closing in. There was a lot of looking back at the past. And wondering about the future.
Jacque Ohanesian was a long term member of Comstock Park Cong-UCC. She was married there 45 years ago. Her two daughters were baptized and attended Sunday School. Jacque herself was a teacher, helped with Vacation Bible School, Christmas pageants and all the other things common to many churches.
There was an earnest hope that after they closed, the building would somehow be used as a church once again.
After all, their building had become available to them when a Baptist church faltered. That was in 1915.
WRAPPING UP WORSHIP
Meanwhile, DeBraber was beginning his sermon in that virtual, final worship service. His text was Matthew 17:1-7, the story of Jesus' transfiguration, with an additional reading from Revelation 21. The sermon title: "Making All Things New."
"Peter wanted to claim that transformative moment by building shelters," he said of the disciples' mountain-top experience of Jesus' glorified presence.
"But the holy city we read about in Revelation is still on its way. It's now time for others to bring that vision to life here."
The other parts of this traditional service also had their place. Among the music selections was a previous recording of the church's handbell ensemble performing the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah."
Near the end came a part of the liturgy called "Declaration of Leave."
"I declare this building to be vacated and the ministry of this body of Christ....to be now completed," he stated. He reminded listeners that the ministry will now be "with those who go out from these walls." The altar candles were extinguished one last time.
(If you'd like to see this final service visit online following a musical prelude, the opening statements come at around 23:25)
DeBraber remained in the empty sanctuary after the service concluded. "I walked down and sat in the pews, and just felt the sadness emanating from the walls," he said. "This church family was losing a central place of connection in their lives."
The name on the church's outdoor sign was removed, waiting until another name took its place.
A HOPEFUL ENDING
The church lot and building went up for sale via a realtor. The buyer was a construction group which specializes in remodeling church facilities. Sommer said the firm plans to do some "light renovations" and then sell the property to an interested church. That would fulfill the wishes of the Comstock Park congregation.
Sale proceeds were split between several area charities, a denominational mission fund and an area new-church start.
The handbells were purchased by Rockford First Congregational-UCC. Most everything else stayed, waiting for its new owners.
Sommer said Comstock Park members will keep their Facebook group alive to stay in touch. They may even have occasional gatherings.
"We want to keep that going," Sommer said. "This church was a family to everybody....it really was."
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