A church in Minnesota is kicking out the old people in a desperate attempt to draw in younger worshipers.
In Cottage Grove, Minnesota, the Grove United Methodist Church will close in June. When it reopens in November, it will be doing so without the older members of the congregation. Most of the present members are more than 60 years old and they have been told to stay away from the church for at least two years.
After two years they are encouraged to check in with the pastor to see if they can be welcomed back.
Unsurprisingly, the decision to force out the older members has generated an angry backlash among those who are being asked to leave.
Cheryl Gackstetter said, "This is totally wrong. They are discriminating against us because of our age."
After the pastor explained the plan earlier this month, Gackstetter said that she called him a hypocrite and told him, "You are kicking us out of our church."
About 25 people attend the church weekly. Seven years ago the church was struggling so much financially that the Methodist clergy could no longer afford a minister for the church. Since then the weekly sermons have been led by members of the church themselves.
Reverend Dan Wetterstrom oversees the Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove and its sister location in Woodbury.
While he is glad that the churches finances have stabilized, his concerns are that the church is not attracting new members. "We have not figured out how to reach new people there," he said.
In a memo, Wetterstrom lamented that the church could die soon. "...unless something changes, we are nearing the end," he commented.
According to Wetterstrom, the Methodists' regional Annual Conference is paying $250,000 to give the church a makeover.
They even hired a specialist in starting new churches, Jeremy Peters.
Peters is 32 and recently moved to Cottage Grove with his wife and three children. He is coordinating the church's relaunch with a target date in November.
"It's a new thing with a new mission for a new target, and a new culture," Peters said.
Well, that new mission is pissing off the older members of the church. While the Cottage Grove parishioners have been told they can attend the Woodbury church instead, they feel "confusion, anxiety, and anger," said Ron Purcell as he opened a service earlier this month.
One of the few younger members of the church, Stella Knapp, has been attending the church for six years with her husband and their children. They hate the plan. "If it happened, I wouldn't come here anymore," said Stella.
Obviously, as an atheist, I am happy to see religion further decline, but I do feel bad for these people. One of the important things people derive from religion is the sense of community. These people are being betrayed by their community in a sense.