The meeting, not the building

Asbury faithful vacate sanctuary, with challenge to carry the light with them

The youngest to the oldest members of Asbury United Methodist Church took active part in Sunday’s decommissioning service for the building, at 616 State St.

On the Palm Sunday afternoon, the sanctuary took on a golden hue from light through the beloved stained glass windows — which will stay in place.

Asbury held its final regular service on Dec. 30, and on Jan. 1 formally merged with Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, under Pastor Andy Wendle.

The Asbury building was sold last month to Andy von Flotow of Hood River, who was present Sunday, and his daughter, Claudia, a 2007 graduate of Hood River Valley High School.

The service featured typical worship elements, including a song from the choir, a sermon and hymns, but this was a unique spiritual event, for it also contained a pronouncement that formalized what the members had known was coming for the past six months: the end of Asbury’s 127 years as a church.

Carrying forth ‘these pieces of our history’

The altar, pews, organ and stained glass windows will stay, but selected treasured objects, some actual and others symbolic, were ceremonially processed from Asbury to close Sunday’s decommissioning service:

n Baptismal font: Pastor Andrew Wendle said the object was too heavy to be carried Sunday but will be moved to Our Redeemer Lutheran Church;

n The Asbury sign, carried by trustees Jim Siekkinen, Muriel Crompton and Roy Pettit;

n Representing the dedication of the women of Asbury, Ila May Schneeberg carried a replacement tile from the basement flooring project, done by women of the church;

n Plaque of the Epworth League, youth league of the church, dated June 11, 1894; “You have been important in this church for well over 100 years and you are important now,” Wendle told processors Eric, Jack and Katie Seikkinen and Zach Boris;

n “The Last Supper” print, donated in 1926 by the Japanese of Oak Grove, carried by Ruth Akiyama;

n Stained glass pieces, from a window disabled in the 1912 move, carried by Pat Pettit and Donna Fitch;

n Church Bible: “It has guided and led this place in proclaiming the power of God and God’s love and truth,” Wendle said to Marv Turner, longtime elder with his wife, Ruth;

n Candles, representing the light of the church, processed by Shelly Oates and Cindy Murahashi;

n Banner: Pat and Bill Crompton last week created a banner out of pieces of Sunday School material, dated 1973.

“This is the symbol of United Methodist Church. You two have called this place home for a great long time,” Wendle said. “You have embodied what it means to be people of open hearts, open minds, open doors; people of a movement. We ask you as sponsors and parents of countless people here, to carry this. Help us to take this with us.”

“This place was consecrated and named the Asbury United Methodist Church. Together with the land on which it stands and all objects in it, we now deconsecrate and release for all honorable use in the future. We declare it is no longer the place of meeting for the United Methodist.”

The pronouncement was uttered by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, district superintendent, Oregon-Idaho, who told reminded the assembled that in the Methodist tradition, “it’s about the meeting, not the building.”

Asbury’s final pastor, Rev. Andrew Wendle, told the congregation, “The time has come, people of God, for this congregation of Christ’s holy church, under God’s leadership, to take leave of this bulding.

“It has been consecrated for the ministry of God’s holy word and sacraments. It has provided refuge and comfort for God’s people. It has served well our holy faith. It is fitting, therefore, that we should take our leave of this consecrated house, lifting up our hearts in thanksgiving, for our common store of memories that we all hold in our hearts, our minds, our very selves.”

Asbury members looked ahead as well as back, on Sunday.

“It clutched me right here,” elder Marv Turner said of carrying the church Bible from the sanctuary for the last time. He noted that the Bible was donated decades ago by his friends the late Walt and Grace Eisenberg.

“He taught me to sing tenor, and she was the ‘big mother,’ she loved the kids, and was a beautiful lady,”

(See sidebar, Page B5, for the full list of processed church treasures.)

“It’s a little bit sad, but then our future is so much brighter,” said Pat Crompton, who with her husband, Bill, carried out their hand-made banner with the red flame symbol of United Methodist Church.

“You have to look at it that way, and move on. If you move away you have to find a new home somewhere, and we’ve just moved away and took our friends with us.”

“I’m glad we’re going to do it (move), but it’s a lot of meaning,” Turner said. “Ruth and I were married here, 62 years ago, so it was meaningful to take (the Bible) along as the symbol of our worship. But we have a new home.”

Members took home a memento that in a way can help cushion the impact of the move: pillows crafted by Pat Pettit and friends. Many were stitched with fabric patches that members had decorated in 2000 as part of a quilt idea that was never fully realized. The patches sat unused in a member’s home for years, Pettit explained (photo, page B5).

“In 2000, the Disciples (bible) class decided to do this project and handed out white pieces of fabric to members of the congregation, brought back and displayed.

“I got my hands on them a while ago, kind of by a stroke of luck,” she said. “They are amazing things, describing one chapter of our life here.” Linda Boris drew a “whole world in his hands,” image in honor of the birth of her son, Zach, who took part in Sunday’s processional. Nikki Paulson drew an angel and the Murahashi family, also present Sunday, drew their hand prints.

“We decided to put them on a little pillow and put a picture of the church on the back so you can have a memory to take along with you,” Pettit said. Extra souvenir pillows were made for members who had not done a patch.

n

Leading members and guests through Litany of Thanksgiving were former pastors Christina Thompson, 2002-2006; David Paulson, 2006-08; and Reina Frisbie, 2008-2010.

“I am very pleased you are able to continue that moving ahead and not looking back because that’s what we are called to in our faith,” Frisbie said. “This is one more step along that journey.”

In the opening of the decommissioning service, Wendle and church members intoned the things for which they give thanks: “for 127 years” ... “for baptisms” ... “for marriages” ... “for deaths” ... “for bazaars” ... “for youth events” ... “receptions” ... “pastors” ... “for leaders ... “for all of you” ... “for missions” ... “for teachers” ... “for the opportunity to worship” ... “for singing’ ... “for musicians” ... “for fellowship” ... “for transformation” ... “for bold stands in our community” ... “for FISH food bank.”

(Our Redeemer property will be used for the new FISH community center, scheduled for construction in 2014.)

With the change in the building, Thompson said, “It is the people who remain.

“And Asbury UMC, while this building may not be part of that church you all continue to be part of that ministry, and I know that all of you will live out this journey that God has called you on in a new building, and it is the people that as you all take leave of this place will carry that piece onward, on with you.”

Paulson called the church “a sacred space,” saying his parents joined the church when they moved to Hood River, and it is the church where their funerals both occurred.

“This was a space where my dad and my mom knew they were loved and cared for, and heard the organ music by Ruth Anne Hendricks and then Pat Crompton, and music by Ruth Turner.

“So there have been many Saints touched by this place, warmed by the sunlight coming through those windows. But I want to leave you with the name of one pastor who made a big impression on me, though I never met him. His name was Sherman Burgoyne,” said Paulson, his voice catching as he invoked the name of the World War II-era Asbury pastor who repeatedly advocated for Japanese-American citizens of Hood River who were discriminated against.

“He was a pastor who spoke up when it was not popular to do so, someone who stood up for something he believed in, something that was right to do.”

Frisbie said, “I am amazed and in wonder and awe in the change and transition that’s happened in this church.

“And there are so many churches that are not able to do that kind of change. Yet I am just very proud that you were willing to step out in faith and make some hard choices, and we look at it now and it feels good and there are some mixed feelings, but there were times when things were difficult and change and transition always have some hard parts in it.

“But in a lot of ways you’ve worked through all that, and this today is a part of that. I was able to walk with you in a part of that journey and I was pleased I was able to do that. I changed because of that and I know you have, and this congregation has done a lot of changing. I know you are continuing on that journey. Amen.”

Greathouse told the congregation: “This building has defined your faith and it reflects the faith the resides inside of each of you, and I know these stained glass windows are very special and important to each of you, they have great meaning, but they are more than windows to a building, they are windows into your soul. They are not simple design features of architecture.

“Spiritually there’s something much more than that because they are transparent. They allow the light of God’s creation to come in and they are transparent so that as we gather, the light of our spirit can be transmitted out.”

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