The Church in transition
The challenges are similar, the goals are the same, but the ways are different. How is the New Apostolic Church in Europe and North America tackling its structural reforms? An overview of a work in progress.
It was on Mother’s Day when it was time for members to say goodbye to a mother of faith—their congregation. This was the case for the congregations of Elmira, Kingsdale, Waterloo, and Waterloo Chinese in Canada which were amalgamated with the Kitchener Central congregation at Margaret Avenue in Kitchener.
This amalgamation is part of a strategy by the District Church of Canada that was started five years ago. Since 2014 a total of ten congregations in the areas of Laval, Halton, Halifax, and London have been amalgamated. The merger of another nine congregations in the Niagara, Port Coquitlam, and Cambridge areas is still ahead.
January’s edition of Canada District News mentions four benefits of amalgamating congregations: obtaining and maintaining critical mass, lessening the strain on ministers and volunteers, providing better activities and programmes in a more functional facility, and lessening the financial burden for future generations.
The objectives in Southern Germany and in North Rhine-Westphalia are similar. Both districts presented their strategies in April of this year. The District Churches in the USA and Berlin-Brandenburg in Germany have also based their previously presented plans for a structural reform on the Vision and Mission Statement of the New Apostolic Church: “A Church in which people feel at home” it says there, and: “Providing soul care and cultivating a warm fellowship.”
The causes why the Churches in Europe and North America need to act are similar. For one the values in society are changing. Then there is an aging population, which is reflected in a decline in church attendance. But there is also the need to renovate and modernize church buildings, many of which are decades old and no longer meet the required standards.
But how do you decide which congregations stay, or which ones will be modernized, and which ones will be merged. The German District Apostles Rainer Storck, Michael Ehrich, and Wolfgang Nadolny formulated detailed criteria in their presentations. This ranges from age structure to the availability of ministers and functionaries, to maintenance and investment costs for church buildings, to the number of people attending divine services and the distance to the next congregation.
North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, came to the conclusion that 162 of the 345 congregations will survive at least into the year 2030. And another 25 congregations will be maintained, although possibly not in a building of their own but in rented premises. Southern Germany has come up with similar categories. But “… there is no template for this, nor can there be hard facts that apply in a uniform way,” District Apostle Ehrich says. “We need transparent and understandable decisions in every single case.”
Church leaders everywhere are in dialogue with district leaders and congregational rectors to discuss which course of action to take. The brothers and sisters are to be informed about the developments. The New Apostolic Church Canada also went down this road: “We have had meaningful discussions and gathered input from our members and ministers.”
The divine service in Kitchener celebrating the new Margaret Avenue congregation was based on Psalm 27: 4: “That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” The children sang. And after the divine service every mother was given a flower to take home. "It was a blessed day and a beautiful start for this new congregation", they said.
Photo: Romolo Tavani