SUISUN CITY — There’s a sense of deja vu at the Suisun-Fairfield United Church of Christ.
Less than four years ago, the congregation was carrying on after the untimely death of its pastor in January 2008. Guest pastors filled in until a new pastor could be found.
After Sunday, the church will again rely on guest pastors – and their own members – to deliver the messages and lead worship. This time, however, there is much less trepidation. And there’s an even stronger history of survival.
The Rev. Lee Cruise will deliver her last sermon Sunday as the church’s pastor. While she is stepping down, Cruise said she will always be connected with the life of the church and is willing to preach and provide ministerial services as needed.
For the past few years, Cruise has prepared the church members for this moment.
“This has been a journey for the church,” she said. “They’ve had three years of stability.”
At the same time, she’s watched the church members take an even bigger role in church duties.
Cruise has seen other United Church of Christ churches go the same route. An aging clergy and lack of finances are reasons some churches carry on without a pastor. Cruise saw one of her main roles as showing church members they didn’t need to be so focused on having a pastor.
The aging building is in need of a new roof. When it rains, buckets are placed in the sanctuary. During heavy rain, some pews get soaked and cannot be used. Rather than receive pay, Cruise wants the church to use its resources for things such as the roof.
Gert Sagapolutele is scheduling the visiting ministers as well as expanding her role in the church’s lay ministry.
“You go to a church and you expect to see a pastor,” she said. “We don’t need one to come together as a family. There’s so much love and leadership here.”
“It requires much more actual participation (from church members),” said Elaine Clark, who has been with the church about 15 years. “We’re all about taking care of each other.”
A changing society has also played a role. Cruise said that cultural revolutions that began in the 1960s have carried on.
“The church was no longer relevant in the eyes of the young,” she said.
Now, those young people are getting older and aren’t in church. Those who stayed with churches are getting older, too. And there’s not an influx of younger people to take their place.
The young ones at the Suisun-Fairfield United Church of Christ come from the Samoan church that worships with them. They used to rent the church. The two congregations merged in 2005.
A Samoan minister will also help with worship.
The church plans to continue its community outreach, which includes hosting 12-step meetings and a food pantry.
Bill Nellis made his usual trip Tuesday to the food bank to pick up items Lorraine Ferreira would put in brown grocery bags and deliver to the homebound. Nellis was married in the church about three years ago. He joined during the last transition.
“The mission of the church is to serve the community,” he said. “It’s great to be a part of that. Everyone knows everyone here.”
He said he has no doubts that the church will continue.
“The church has been here before,” he said. “I’m sure we will carry on.”
An average of 20 to 30 people attend Sunday worship.
“We are a small church but we are strong,” Ferreira said.
“God has a plan for this church,” Sagapolutele said. “The church doors have been open all these years.”
“The spirit keeps us going,” Clark said. “We’re like the little engine that could.”
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.