The First Baptist Church of Eau Claire gathered for the last time as a formal church on Sunday, March 11, 2018. The celebratory closing of the church started with a “singspiration” worship service in the morning and culminated with a combined 157th birthday/goodbye dinner in the evening.
Like many churches across the USA, Eau Claire, First reached a point in their ministry and congregational life when many questions were raised and discussions had about what God was calling them to, even in the midst of declining and aging church membership and steady, if not increasing, maintenance expenses. For the past several years the church was on a discernment journey seeking to be faithful. As to be expected, the journey was not easy, and at times hopeful, and other times quite painful. This discernment journey led them to a decision to sell their historic downtown church to a newer church plant in 2017, Renew Church. Some members expressed that while this was a difficult decision, what was most important to them was a continuing Christian witness in the community.
Over the past year, they continued to meet for worship in the building and began to incorporate members of the Renew Church into their community ministries. At the celebration dinner, Renew Church Pastor shared gratefulness for the ways that First Baptist members took the younger church under their wing and gracefully released the ministries into their care.
ABC/WI Regional Executive Minister Marie Onwubuariri reflected upon the celebration dinner:
“It was a very special experience to be with this congregation on this culminating event. I had the privilege to see this congregation go through the difficult process of discernment, and I truly commend them for their diligence, care, and faithfulness. The memories shared at the dinner were not unlike many of the memories I have from my own upbringing in my home church, so it was easy for me to resonate with the myriad of emotions that night. It truly was an evening of joy and pain, hope and peace, gratefulness for and trusting in God.”
As part of their decision to finally close their doors as an official church, the congregation blessed several ministries and mission efforts from the building sale and their foundation funds. ABC Wisconsin was one of the recipients, and their gifts were used to establish the “New Wineskins Endowment Fund” with the American Baptist Foundation, which will be used to help with new ministries in the region. Information on how to add support to this fund and how to request support from this fund will be shared in the coming months as it becomes available.
Onwubuariri adds, “All ministries and faith communities began because of God’s provision, often manifested in the generosity of individuals and organizations. While this congregation has decided to close as an institution, their missional impact will continue as the seeds they have planted will bear fruit through new models of faith communities and different forms of ministry. Their approach and decisions around blessing others with their resources–without restriction–speaks to their desire to simply bless and trust in what God is doing and will do in the future through others. We are grateful for their many years of faithfulness as a covenanting church of ABC Wisconsin and ABCUSA.”
May God continue to guide Pastor Loyed Arnold and his family, and all the members of First Eau Claire in the next phase of their journey of faith, as individuals, and as a community of believers who will forever be united — to one another and with their larger ABC family.