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Lazarus Lutheran Church of Lineboro holds its final service

Lazarus Lutheran Church of Lineboro holds its final service
After 163 years, Lazarus Lutheran Church of Lineboro closed with a closing service on July 16 at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manchester. Lazarus Lutheran Council President Linda Calhoun, standing third from left, distributed checks to eight community and religious organizations on behalf of the congregation. Those receiving an offering were, from left: the Rev. Ron Schlak for the Delaware Maryland Lutheran Synod; the Rev. Sam Chamelin, Lazarus United Church of Christ; the Rev. Charles Marshall, Immanuel Lutheran Church; the Rev. Diane Day, Carroll Lutheran School; Nina Garretson, Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg; Alvin Renoll, president of the Lineboro Cemetery; Janet Buchanan, Carroll Lutheran Village; and Lynn Sheavly, North East Social Action Program. (Kevin Dayhoff / Carroll County Times)

After serving northern Carroll County for 163 years, Lazarus Lutheran Church of Lineboro has closed.

A final service was held at Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Manchester on Saturday, July 16. The congregation of Lazarus Lutheran Church used the occasion to the distribute money to eight community and religious organizations.

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Lazarus Lutheran was part of the historic union church movement, sharing space with Lazarus German Reformed Church, now known as Lazarus United Church of Christ. Although the roots of the church date back to 1798, the cornerstone for the original church building was laid on Sept. 23, 1853, according to a history written by the Rev. Abdel Ross Wentz, who was raised in Lazarus Lutheran Church. The subsequent Gothic-style church building was built in 1908.

The new church was named after the poor beggar in Jesus's parable recorded in Luke 16:19-31, according to a history printed in a bulletin for the service.

According to a Carroll County Times article from October 2013, "In the 1700s, [and 1800s] building churches was so expensive for small congregations that many Reformed (now United Church of Christ) and Lutheran churches in the area pooled resources to build structures that both congregations shared…" In 1853, Lazarus Union Church cost $2,171.49, according to the history of the church found in the bulletin.

In the case of Lazarus, perhaps the end began with a catastrophic fire on Dec. 3, 2013. In spite of the efforts of about 60 firefighters, the church was a total loss. Only a brick shell remained.

After the fire, it appears that the Lazarus United Church of Christ and Lazarus Lutheran congregations decided to go their separate ways. Like many churches, the Lazarus Lutheran church membership had declined, and as a result, moving forward financially was proving to be difficult.

"Honestly, things weren't the same as they had been for a while," the Rev. Diane L. Day said in the service. "Things had started to take on a different shape. Most churches can identify with that feeling. But things were much different for Lazarus…"

According to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America website, the Lutheran Church remains one of the largest churches in the United States. However, "Nearly 30 percent of ELCA churches reported an average worship attendance of fewer than 50 people in 2010," according to a January 2013 article in Lutheran Magazine. "From 2003 to 2011, average weekly worship attendance dropped 26 percent. And from 2009 to 2010, ELCA membership decreased 5.9 percent, the sharpest rate of decline among mainline denominations, according to the National Council of Churches.

On Saturday, nearly 125 folks ranging in age from toddlers to senior citizens attended the service titled "Celebration of Ministry and Closing of the Church."

Day, a former associate chaplain at Carroll Lutheran Village, helped with the closing service. She read the Gospel lesson from John 11:1-45, the story of how Saint Lazarus of the Four Days was brought back to life by Jesus.

In her subsequent sermon, Day used the story of the life and death of Lazarus as a way to illustrate the story of Lazarus Church — that just as Lazarus of Bethany, Lazarus Lutheran Church is a "community that experienced a great loss. So many memories, so many experiences together, and now- all gone," she said.

"The days passed. They continued to grieve and they continued to do the things they needed to do to get by. But honestly, it just wasn't the same. No one had been prepared to lose Lazarus. What would they do now? …

"Perhaps you were thinking of the double meaning I was pointing to as I began this sermon. Lazarus' story from the Bible is also the story of the community of Lazarus… The loss of the building that the community of Lazarus had called home was totally unexpected… In the midst of it, you came together to grieve and support one another. … But things were definitely not the same as they had been… So, it came time for you to make some decisions. Perhaps it was time to change the relationship with the UCC sisters and brothers. Not end it, but change it. They were heading in a different direction. The realities of a changing world and uncertainty about addressing it led you to a new place that made it difficult to continue as you had.

"You played a role in the gift of resurrection and new life by making decisions that were difficult and yet very life-giving. You gave your UCC sisters and brothers the gift of most of the insurance money so they could build what God was calling them to. And honestly, you could have been greedy and done otherwise but you didn't. Most recently, you've decided to give what money you did receive to other communities of faith, to the community organizations that make sure people have basic needs, to a school that focuses on helping children grow. This is God's glory, this is resurrection and life shone in the midst of a situation of death."

After the sermon by Day, the Rev. Kevin Clementson, a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster, announced that typically at this point in the service there is a collection, but this service was going to be different.

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Eight representatives of eight local charities were invited forward to receive checks from the Lazarus Lutheran Council President Linda Calhoun. The resurrection of Lazarus in the Bible story was compared to the gift of new life given these eight organizations.

Those receiving an offering were: the Rev. Ron Schlak, for the Delaware Maryland Lutheran Synod; the Rev. Sam Chamelin, Lazarus UCC; the Rev. Charles Marshall, Immanuel Lutheran Church; Day, Carroll Lutheran School; Nina Garretson, Lutheran Theological Seminary of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; Alvin Renoll, president of Lineboro Cemetery; Janet Buchanan, Carroll Lutheran Village; and Lynn Sheavly, North East Social Action Program.

"I have a lot of good memories of Lazarus Lutheran," Calhoun said in her farewell address near the end of the service. "The end of an era is not the end of the story. Faith has been nurtured and our mission has been accomplished through the life of our congregation.

"Remember that congregations were not meant to last forever. The Kingdom of God is forever, but individual churches are not. We are here because of the legacy of congregations before us! Perhaps God is telling us to pass that legacy forward in a new fashion. God's plan will not be stopped by closing the door of a church. As He told Joshua, 'Don't live in the past. Prepare for the future. Move on.'"

Lamar Bailey, who was the vicar at the church at the time of the fire, attended the closing service with his family. "It is sad to see it end. But I am convinced the spirit of Lazarus Lutheran will continue. People will go forward to serve Christ and the community," he said at the reception after the service.

"Lazarus Lutheran would allow seminarians to come to the church for a year to learn the ropes … for their first year in the ministry. Through this experience, Lazarus has exponentially impacted the church and the leaders of the church to this day — through the leaders it has trained," Bailey said.

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Calhoun added that over the years, since 1996, 18 vicars had trained at Lazarus Lutheran.

Clementson has worked with Lazarus Lutheran since the fire. He said the positive thing is that the congregation choose to support the community in ways that will continue — even though the church building is gone, the ministry of the church will live on the community.

Garretson, of Gettysburg Seminary, said the Lazarus Lutheran Council has endowed a scholarship at the seminary for future students. "We're so happy that the legacy of Lazarus Lutheran will live on with future students," she said.

The Rev. Robert G. Kidd was the pastor at Lazarus from 1981 to 1989. He observed, "It is very touching to come back for such a meaningful service. They are people of great faith. I'm sure they will be a treasure at the places they worship in the future."

In the end, Day spoke for many when she ended her sermon, "This is a bittersweet and yet joyous day. It is a day to celebrate life and especially new life. Amen."

Calhoun closed her remarks with, "Let us pray. Dear God, give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is guiding and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

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