Studies show that Americans relocate an average of 11 times during their lifetimes.
For most churches, relocations occur at a much slower rate, unless declining memberships or cost of living factors and other financial issues force a move.
After almost 23 years in Windsor, the congregation of Vineyard of Faith (VOF) Lutheran Church on Arata Lane was compelled to leave last July when it could not pay off a building loan with interest that brought the market value of the property to $2.3 million.
The group’s first wish was to find another place to hold services in town, since a majority were local residents who shared common bonds with friends and neighbors.
Over the years, they had established close individual and community relationships through a variety of outreach activities including food distributions, youth programs, English as a second language classes and how-to sessions for new mothers. For many of these members the transition was traumatic, leading to an extended grieving process.
In a sincere effort to offer support, Lutheran District leaders asked Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Healdsburg to invite VOF members to join them.
“We gladly welcomed all 69 VOF believers as full voting members, while also naming Shirley Schallon, former president of the VOF congregation in Windsor, to our church council,” said Good Shepherd Pastor Mark Airey. “It takes time to meld large groups from different backgrounds together and our hope from the start was that everyone would feel at home and wish to stay here.”
Things went well as members from both churches got to know each other and started to settle in. However, over the next eight months, about 50 percent of the transferees, who were accustomed to a less traditional worship format and a different leadership style, began to drift away, and some are not attending church at all.
Positive outcomes can happen from such a change if viewed in the right way. For example, Good Shepherd previously operated a preschool but lost two directors in a row, forcing a closure of this facility.
Fortunately, Schallon has years of experience in establishing and operating preschools. She stepped in to fill the gap as interim director and helped reopen the preschool.
Called Little Lambs Preschool at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, this center is licensed for up to 22 children and is now accepting applications for fall enrollment of children ages 3 to 6 years old, with plans to extend its hours to full day service from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in August.
Throughout Sonoma County, a number of preschools are owned and/or operated by faith-based organizations (including the Windsor Baptist and Methodist churches among others), providing a much-needed service for working families and offering an early childhood education experience for those enrolled.
The desire of many former VOF members to re-establish a presence in Windsor has not faded. Today a group meets regularly at members’ homes in town.
“The hope is that this group will grow and eventually find a church in Windsor willing to share its space with us. Our ties run deep in this town and having a place here would help reunite Lutheran residents who lost their church so they can once again worship in this community,” Schallon said.
Schallon and Pastor Airey believe that when people become engaged, empowered and belong to a church, they gain satisfaction by not only sharing their faith, but by participating and volunteering to help others that can lead to long-term commitments.
“This is our hope and future vision for our members in Windsor,” Airey said.
Gary Quackenbush is a Windsor resident and writer with his own public relations consultancy. He is the founder of the Windsor Care Network and a former CEO of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.