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Our congregation, Norfolk Street United Church, will cease to exist on May 1st after 177 years of faithful service to downtown Guelph and adjacent communities. The building has been sold. The new owners, another church, have already moved in and begun an amazing set of programs of outreach to the downtown disadvantaged.
Our congregation chose to seek another United Church congregation to join rather than disband. ‘Everyone wants to be with their friends’ seemed to be a common observation. So, a search began over a year ago to find the most compatible match. Two churches were selected and communication began separately with each of them. After several months, a decision was made to eliminate one of the choices and focus on the other. Both were acceptable, but one, Trinity United, had more intangibles that we liked.
Finding a ‘perfect’ match can be a daunting task. After all, we are creatures of habit. We like our Minister, we like our music; we like to sit in the same pew every Sunday. And perhaps our parents and grandparents sat in the same pew as well. Normally, we don’t like change. Change is never good, well, at least until we get there, and then we find it wasn’t so bad after all.
We also need to be careful to honour the legacy of the existing church and to allow sufficient time for closure in spite of the excitement of the new combined congregation.
Worship style and music always seem to be the two most important factors from what we have seen. We arranged for a pulpit exchange between the ministers so that both congregations could get a ‘flavour’ of their preaching styles. We arranged for a joint choir practice just to see how the choirs could mesh.
Trinity invited our congregation to a joint barbeque on their lawn. Friendships began almost instantly. We exchanged invitations to our normal church activities, for example, Christmas bazaars. The Council Chairs met one on one just to get to know each other and the Ministers did the same.
Negotiating teams were formed for each church. Several meetings were held and at some point we decided to hire a facilitator. Not that there were any issues that couldn’t be resolved. The idea was to have someone who was independent and had the experience to make sure that we discussed all the issues before decisions were made.
The cooperation between the teams was amazing. The discussions were open, honest and sincere. The discussions were much more about facilitation rather than negotiation. It was agreed that there was room for our minister at the new combined congregation until her retirement in 2015. Our church, having sold its manse, could make it financially feasible to do that. There was also room for our administrator to come along as well.
At this point in time, both congregations have voted in favour of joining together and both votes were unanimous. We kept the congregations advised every step of the way through joint and separate congregational meetings, often with PowerPoint presentations with the details. There has been enough interaction between the two communities and as one senior described it, it was a ‘no brainer’.
We will be delighted to join Trinity United on May 1st, 2013