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Notebook Religion

Off to a bad restart

The choir sings at The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minn. (Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP)


Off to a bad restart

The Grove United Methodist Church has not abandoned its elderly members, but it has abandoned Biblical doctrine

The story was sensational. A small, struggling congregation of some 30 elderly attendees is scheduled to close this summer, only to relaunch in the fall with a new, young pastor, new décor, and a new worship style, but without its aging members. Pioneer Press reported that church leaders at the Grove United Methodist Church (UMC) had asked elderly members not to participate in the relaunch and to worship elsewhere for two years before “reapplying” for membership. Accusations of age discrimination followed. Major media picked up the story, painting it as a case of youth-obsessed culture run amok.

The truth is more complicated, but also more sobering.

The Grove boasts two suburban St. Paul, Minn., campuses: the small Cottage Grove congregation, and a large, prosperous Woodbury congregation 15 minutes to the north. The two congregations merged in 2008, but for the past seven years the Cottage Grove campus has been unable to support its own minister. Members of the congregation plan services, provide music, and take turns preaching sermons. Despite past revitalization efforts, the Cottage Grove campus has remained stagnant.

The planned relaunch is designed to attract younger families and to forge an intergenerational ministry. Leaders have asked Cottage Grove members to worship at the Woodbury campus for 15-18 months so the relaunch can “take.” The leaders clarified no current member will be excluded from the relaunch.  They are being asked—not commanded—to give it a chance to succeed.

But it won’t.

In June 2019 the Minnesota Conference of the UMC voted to reject a Biblical view of human sexuality, marriage, and Christian ministry in order to support “the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church.” In a Jan. 5, 2020, sermon, Grove Associate Pastor Kelly Lamon stated that the leaders of the Grove “stand in solidarity” with the decision of the Minnesota Conference.

Theologically liberal Methodists already repudiate substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of the dead, and the plain Biblical witness to the necessity of repentance and the certainty of eternal punishment apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Their current repudiation of Biblical morality further untethers the Grove from historic Christianity. 

In a brief survey of 12 weeks of sermons, including messages from pastors of the Grove and the bishop of the Dakotas-Minnesota area, I found not a single reference to repentance, conviction, guilt, law, commandment, the holiness of God, judgment, atonement, or God’s wrath against sin. 

One sermon mentioned sin, but did so while suggesting that Christians too often use light and darkness as metaphors for good and evil, and that by doing so we promote racism against dark-skinned persons. No sermons mentioned eternal life, reconciliation with God, the necessity of forgiveness, obedience, or the cost of discipleship.

The leaders of the Grove might succeed in relaunching the Cottage Grove campus. They might fill the sanctuary with young people. But ultimately they will fail, for they appear committed to withholding the words of eternal life from those who attend.


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  • Rich277
    Posted: Sun, 02/16/2020 11:08 am

    Young people aren't stupid.  Why go to the trouble of supporting and maintaining a building with a Christian facade when you can tune in the evening news and get the same message from the high priests of the golden donkey god of the DNC?  The whole digital world is filled with his braying.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Sun, 02/16/2020 08:14 pm

    Your main point stands, but I don't think many young people are actually watching the evening news (not on TV, anyway), and there is a lot more than one golden idol on offer these days.

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Sun, 02/16/2020 08:27 pm

    Re: Rich277

    Am I the only one getting frustrated over what I suppose are Republicans casting the blame for EVERYTHING on the Democrats? Since when did the Methodist church or any church become the church of politics instead of the church of Christ? Where in the article is there any mention of political parties? As Christians, can't we search our own hearts without casting stones at others? And if the body of Christ becomes nothing more than a bunch of Republicans who have finally succeeded against Democrats, then I'm nearly certain that the gospel of Jesus Christ will have been lost.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Mon, 02/17/2020 03:43 pm

    Your reply took me a minute. Then I realized it was in response to Rich. I also find his  comments misguided, if not annoying. And as you point out when in an apolitical article. I wonder if sometimes we can get caught up in our polemics or in  our wordsmithing. I agree with you from the Mason Dixon line.

    This story seems to encapsulate much of what is going on in our culture and in the church today. But as Paul wrote in 1 Cor 11:18-19 "There must be factions (heresies?) among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you." It is sad when the factions and divisions are not so hard to differentiate from the approved.

    Mason Dixon Grandpa